Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, welcomes 40 million annual visitors, spans 4.2 million square feet and houses 32 shoe stores alone. But the mall's managers want to double its size, and they want state and local governments to help pay for it--to the tune of more than $200 million in tax breaks.
The expansion would add four hotels, a water park, an ice rink, a performing arts center, 8,000 parking spaces and retail favorites such as Bass Pro Shops. "It's not just a big shopping mall," says Dan Jasper, Mall of America's spokesman. "It's a destination."
Mall officials say that the subsidies would pay for themselves through additional sales and property-tax revenue. They also claim they'll need to hire 7,000 workers to build the addition. Once completed, the stores and services will have slots for thousands of new employees.
The proposal's fate in the legislature is uncertain. Lawmakers are questioning whether the new jobs will be good ones and whether the expansion will hurt other retailers. "I'm skeptical that these subsidies do anything besides move jobs around," says Representative Ann Lenczewski, who chairs the Minnesota House Taxes Committee.
Mall representatives say that if the shopping empire were to stay its current size, it wouldn't continue to be the same tourist draw--and tax-revenue producer--it has been for the past 15 years. Although the Mall of America remains the largest retail and entertainment complex in the country, it is no longer first in leaseable space, a common measure of mall size. "This is America," Jasper says. "We like to say that we're the biggest and the best."