Is bigger better?
The developers of Mall of America hope so.
Now under construction in Bloomington, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the megamall is not only big, it will be the biggest shopping center in the nation when it opens this summer.
This Paul Bunyan of shopping centers is a giant in every way. Being built on the 78-acre site of the former Metropolitan Stadium, where the baseball Twins and National Football League Vikings played before the Metrodome was built, it has a floor area of 4.2 million square feet, about the same as in the Sears Tower in Chicago.
Mall of America should add new meaning to the expression "Shop 'til you drop." Each corner of the four-level structure will be anchored by a department store: Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom and Sears. Plus, there is space for 400 specialty shops; to date, leasing commitments have been made for almost 80 percent of them.
But there's more to life than shopping. At the heart of this mother of all malls is a major fun factor: A seven-acre amusement park with 26 rides and attractions. Called Knott's Camp Snoopy, it has been designed and will be operated by the Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, Calif.
Located in a space big enough to accommodate the Metrodome, the amusement park, which has a Minnesota North Woods theme, will include a full-size roller coaster and a log flume ride.
Besides Camp Snoopy, there are other entertainment features:
* 1.2-million-gallon aquarium called Underwater World that will consist of a 300-foot-long tunnel of undersea life simulating a journey from Minnesota down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
* A 5,000-square-foot Lego Showplace that will provide play areas and a retail store featuring the building-block toy.
* Golf Mountain, with a Viking theme, that will offer miniature golf on a two-level course.
Under one roof, this city within a city also will have 14 movie theater screens, 30 eating establishments, nightclubs, comedy
clubs, pubs, a sports bar, a health club, a day-care facility and parking for 12,750 cars. Plans for Phase 2 include 1,000 hotel
Mall of America is being developed by Melvin Simon & Associates Inc. of Indianapolis, one of the nation's largest developers and managers of shopping centers, and Triple Five Corp. of West Edmonton, Alberta, the developer of the 5.2 million-square-foot West Edmonton Mall, the world's largest mall and a prototype for the Minnesota project.
With construction more than 65 percent completed, the interior is shaping up. The mall will be divided into four themed shopping "streets": South Boulevard, North Garden, East Broadway and West Market. Among the stores along these corridors will be Kohl's, Service Merchandise, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, the Disney Store, F.A.O. Schwartz and Victoria's Secret.
The developers have set Aug. 11 for the grand opening, and hope the mall will generate sales of $650 million in the first year of operation and $1 billion in annual sales by 1996.
Melvin Simon, chairman of Melvin Simon & Associates, predicted Mall of America "will draw from 200, 300, 400 miles, not five or 10 miles like a regional shopping mall. It goes far beyond retailing. It's amusement, like at the West Edmonton Mall, but on a more advanced basis."
Construction financing for the $625 million project is being provided by Mitsubishi Bank Ltd., Mitsui Trust & Banking Ltd. and Chuo Trust. Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America is providing permanent financing.
Will the megamall be a megasuccess?
Paul Vogel, president of Chicago-based Realty Development Research Inc., appraised Mall of America's chances this way: "It's well anchored, but the real issue is its size. Will the 400 specialty store space be leased up? A mall can be so big that it's hard to use. Local shoppers may go to the anchors (on the four corners), but not go into the mall where the specialty shops are.
"On the other hand, size may be a draw because there's so much variety. And Melvin Simon is one of the best [shopping center developers] in the nation."
Mr. Vogel said location could be a problem. "Woodfield, for example, serves a much bigger market and is located in a much bigger population area," Mr. Vogel said. "Mall of America needs to draw from long distances, and it's tough to make that work. You won't see many people from Chicago going to Minnesota for a weekend of shopping, especially in winter."
He believes the entertainment lure of Mall of America is a key. "The entertainment must bring people in if there's to be any shot at success. But if people come for the entertainment, will they stay to shop? There are a lot of if's."
Mr. Vogel said today's market can't help the new mall. "Anybody can make money in good times, but any difficulties are exacerbated by poor economic times."