Critics are lining up to blast a public-private partnership that commits $7.5 million from city of Bloomington taxpayers to help the Mall of America build a waterpark.
Bloomington city council members recently voted unanimously to enter into a partnership with the mall. According to initial plans, the park would be adjacent to the mall, built on a space currently occupied by a parking structure.
The council agreed to contribute 75 percent of the project's $10.1 million design cost, or $7.5 million. The total project cost, including construction, is expected to be $250 million.
The city's share will come from the South Loop Development Fund (SLDF), which collects liquor and lodging taxes within the city.
Opponents say the city unintentionally signed on for unspecified site upgrades and area improvements in infrastructure and parking. They also point out that there already is a water park near the mall. Great Wolf Lodge has a location across from the mall.
“Cannibalizing existing business enterprises in order to add a new attraction for the Mall of America is bad strategy for long-term business development and tax stability," Great Wolf Resorts CEO Murray Hennessy said in an open letter to the city council.
Schane Rudlang, Port Authority Administrator of Bloomington, defended the decision, noting that many cities develop and own pools and water parks.
"While the proposed water park may become the largest indoor water park in North America, it is still at its core a water park amenity that citizens within a city and from outside of a city may use, and from that perspective it is ‘just’ another public water park," Rudlang said. "The proposed water park will certainly complement and expand the recreational facilities program in Bloomington for the benefit of its citizens and visitors, and provide an amenity to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that does not exist today.”
Preliminary plans for the park, which is slated to start construction in early 2020, show it having a South Loop footprint of 250,000 square feet.
The agreement between the council and the mall stipulates that the waterpark is to be owned and operated by a nonprofit entity. The mall will not receive revenue directly from the park. Instead, it will make money as the project developer, manager and landlord.
Additionally, the Bloomington council has insisted that if the park does not turn a profit, the city can reinstate a sales tax on the mall. The mall currently benefits from a rule enacted by the state legislature that placed the mall in a tax-free zone.
The Mall of America is visited by more than 40 million people a year. About one-third come from more than 150 miles away.