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Mall of America wants bragging rights back

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Mall of America was the biggest indoor mall in the country when it opened in 1992. It wants its top spot back.

The mall, now the nation’s third-largest by retail square footage, is planning an expansion that would more than double its size by adding a 6,000-seat music theater, hotels, and an ice rink.

The $1.78 billion project would add new stores, too, including a Bass Pro outdoor retailer, and would connect the mall to the nearby IKEA home furnishings store.

The sprawling four-story mall already includes and indoor amusement park and 520 stores.

“They have all the elements to keep people there for days,” said Murray Shor, editor and publisher of Shopping Center Digest.

Mall officials on Wednesday asked state lawmakers to pay for a $181 million parking structure and for a sales tax exemption for construction materials used in the expansion. The mall is aiming to finish the project by 2011.

The expansion plans reflect the trend of large malls emphasizing restaurants and hotels rather than more stores, said Mary Brett Whitfield, a senior vice president at TNS Retail Forward.

Shoppers are “increasingly thinking about experience as opposed to buying more stuff,” she said.

Mall of America has slipped from being the largest mall in the country, according to the Directory of Major Malls. The Eastwood Mall Complex in Ohio is No. 1 with 3.2 million square feet. Second-largest is the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, at slightly less than 2.8 million square feet.

The Mall of America has just 25,000 square feet less than that. The addition would add about 1.1 million leasable square feet.

Mall officials claim it is currently the biggest tourist draw in the Midwest, bringing in 40 million visitors a year. Keeping it that way requires expanding, said Maureen Bausch, the mall’s vice president for business development, in making her case for using tax money for the parking structure.

Mall officials said the expansion would bring in $51.7 million a year in sales taxes for the state.

Still, lawmakers sounded skeptical, with some asking pointed questions about how much health insurance coverage was available for the mall’s 11,000 workers, most of them retail and service workers.

Bausch said mall officials would re-evaluate the expansion plans if the state declines to pay for the parking structure.

The project already has the approval of the city of Bloomington, the Minneapolis suburb where the mall is located.