This is the fourth chapter in my MA thesis on Privatization of Public Space.
The bibliography is included in the complete paper.
This document is approximately 4000 words and may be downloaded.
Mall of America: The New Town Center
Situated on the former site of Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium, in a suburban community outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Mall of America is at 4.2 million square feet the largest enclosed shopping mall in the United States.1 Phase one of the 78-acre complex opened to the public on August 11, 1992. Four anchor stores, 350 boutiques and its star attraction, a seven-acre enclosed amusement park named Knott's Camp Snoopy, all vie for the consumer's attention. A fourth level contains entertainment facilities such as movie theaters, restaurants and nightclubs, making the mall essentially a 24-hour facility. Two well-lit seven-story parking garages and four surface parking lots provide space for 12,500 cars; each space is no more than 300 feet from the nearest Mall of America entrance -- a fact repeated frequently in the mall's literature -- easing the consumer's fear of walking too far and of violent crimes in parking lots.2
Its developers, Melvin Simon and Associates of Indianapolis, Indiana, and-Triple Five Corporation of Edmonton, Alberta, estimate the mall will attract 40 million visitors annually, making it one of the Twin Cities's leading tourist destinations.3 Conveniently located next to Highway 77 and I-494 -- within minutes of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport -- Mall of America's greeters, translators, Pepsi Pick-up Shuttle tram system and courtesy phones seem to be an extension of the airport's antiseptic and highly controlled environment. Meanwhile, the mall's sublevel contains the service routes, loading docks, offices and an on-site police facility. With its security-fixation, the mall perpetuates the airport analogy. The mall's impeccable, invisible maintenance occurs in much the same way as it does at Disneyland, another popular fantasy town.
Phase two of the mall calls for the addition of hotels and residential towers, so people will never have to leave the protective cocoon of the mall. Although other malls, such as Trump Tower in New York City, already have housing incorporated in them, these urban malls are planned from the start with housing to offset high property values. The Mall of America is located in a white-collar low-density suburban area, so the addition of housing would essentially create an edge city in and of itself.4 Besides the 10,000 people who currently work at the mall,5 the increased density around such viable ventures frequently spawns additional commercial developments. Capping several decades of suburban growth, the Post Oaks Galleria, on Loop 610 outside of Houston, currently has more retail space, high-rise apartments and hotels than downtown Houston and is third in the state for total office space.6
By creating the ultimate consumer paradise, the architects of the project, which include HGA/KKE of Minneapolis and the Jerde Partnership of Los Angeles, have made a private city whose ideal citizen's sole purpose is to shop. The rest of society, which can legally be barred from the mall, is invisible.7
Has public space become so terrible that people would want to live in a theme park/mall? While the mall may try to provide the services of a town center, is it providing a genuine public realm? Besides negative social, political and psychological implications, the impact of such a project on future urban development is important at a time when central urban districts are in serious trouble.
Five minutes north of the Mall of America in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina lies the birthplace of mall culture, Southdale Mall. Developed by Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen in 1953, Southdale was the first fully enclosed, two-story shopping mall containing more than one major department store.8 Up until then, suburban shopping centers had gradually evolved from one-level strip malls composed of one or, later, two department stores with parking directly in front of each store. Southdale's success challenged the prevalent belief that two competitive department stores in a development were bad for business and that people were too lazy to walk away from their cars, much less climb stairs to shop on a second level. Gruen simply synthesized the different shopping mall trends while fulfilling modernist ideals by separating pedestrian and vehicular traffic and enclosing the two-story open space. Gruen envisioned malls as an antidote to suburban sprawl and to the psychological isolation that automobiles inflicted on the social fabric. In the mall, people would interact without interference from automobiles, while open space was simultaneously compressed and internalized for more efficient land use. Mall exteriors became less important with the internalization of pedestrian space; the more dramatic the transition from inside to outside the better. Outside was unpredictable, uncomfortable and banal, while inside was constantly pleasant, animated and interesting.
By sealing off open spaces, the complete control of natural climate was achieved, creating an artificial Eden that remains at a constant and perfect temperature. Although Gruen originally enclosed Southdale because Minnesota only has about 126 days of outdoor-shopping weather, the covered mall became the norm for even the best climates, such as those in California and Florida.9
The cocoon-like structure helps suspend notions of time, to be better enveloped in "The Retail Drama."10 Suspension of reality is similar to the goal of a Las Vegas casinos. Their goal is to push consumption. Television helps this process by influencing the "needs" of the audience and by priming them for the incongruities that are inherent in a mall's jarring mixture of stores and amenities. Inside the mall, consumers are stimulated into impulse purchases to fulfill unachievable gratification and constantly changing lifestyle fantasies.11
If the Mall of America draws customers away from other malls like Southdale and from downtown Minneapolis, Bloomington residents feel a certain sense of retribution. Bloomington suffered a loss of prestige when the Minnesota Vikings franchise deserted the Metropolitan Stadium for the Minneapolis Metrodome. Bloomington was left with a big empty lot and an even larger loss of tax revenues. Town officials courted developers to see what development possibilities might exist. With the success of the West Edmonton Mall (WEM) fresh under their belt (currently the largest mall in the world at 5.3 million square feet), the Ghermezian Brothers's Triple Five Corporation teamed up with Melvin Simon and Associates, the second largest developer of U.S. shopping malls,12 to recreate the successful formula in Bloomington.
With a surrounding population of four million, the Twin Cities has a potential customer base four times larger than Edmonton. As a super regional mall, it is expected to draw customers from as far as 300 miles away, even Canada and Japan. With visions of rising land values and an increased tax base, the city officials quelled the initial "Maul the Mall" protest with promises of 10,000 jobs. The protesters correctly feared traffic congestion expected from the 200,000 weekend shoppers.13 But Rick Geshwiler, Bloomington's director of planning, hyperbolically claimed Mall of America would be different: "It is the next level of retailing. It's like the difference between a space station and a bus station."14
With Bloomington's purchase of the stadium land and subsequent zoning changes, the developers were granted the right to build a mall totaling 9.5 million square feet, although only 4.2 million was to be built in the first stage. A ground breaking ceremony on Flag Day, June 14, 1989, included a squadron of F-14 fighter planes and a band playing the "1812 Overture." Initial construction was financed with $150 million of public bonds, divided into $25.5 million for the site, $51.5 million for the construction of the parking lots and $80 million for infrastructure. The rest of the $625 million construction financing came from two Japanese banks, Mitsubishi and Mitsui, each contributing $200 million. Although the economy was heading into a recession, the mall's investment potential was attractive enough to draw the New York-based pension fund Teachers Insurance Annuity Association. They purchased a 55% stake in the Mall of America.15
To insure the mall's success by attracting the right department stores, the developers offered extraordinary leases to the major tenants: Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Sears and Nordstrom. The mixture of department stores covers a broad middle-class price range. The brunt of the mall's cost is borne by the smaller specialty stores that line the corridors between major department stores. The highly controlled mix of stores limits competition between tenants and maintains an illusion of variety and uniqueness -- even though most stores are part of international chains. Independent stores are considered higher risk and therefore subject to higher rents; however, Mall of America's Entrepreneur Partnership tenants -- which include Hologram Land, Minnesota!, Painted Tipi and Alamo Flags -- do get free tips on management, store design and merchandising.16
But then again, all stores have to comply with rules set down by John Wheeler, Mall of America's general manager. Every aspect of the mall is tightly controlled: hours that the shops must stay open, design and placement of a stores's signs and sale banners, as well as color schemes in window displays. All tenants must pay Merchant's Association dues for the maintenance of the common areas, security, mall promotions and special events.17
The developers shrewdly enlisted sixteen major corporations for the privilege of being official Mall of America sponsors and marketing partners.18 These corporations pay Mall of America's developers to receive an unprecedented degree of advertising within the mall, to insure exclusive use of their products and, most importantly, to have potential access to an enormous clientele. American Express is the "Official Grand Opening Credit Card Partner;" approved applicants get $20 certificates valid at any Mall of America merchant. Ford Motor Company, the "Official Automotive Sponsor", funded the Ford Playhouse in Knott's Camp Snoopy. In return, Ford gets two permanent vehicle displays. One of them is a bizarre interactive display that allows shoppers to star in their own Ford videos. A shopper, once seated inside the car, can select an American scenic backdrop flashed on a wall of monitors in front of the car. Enjoying a fantasy of traveling for the world's goods available in the mall, he or she is actually sitting in an immobile car in a car-free, indoor space with pedestrians walking by. Should young people need other diversions beside Knott's Camp Snoopy, Ford has organized the Ford Exploration Association, a treasure hunt through the mall. Clues based on the diversity of American geography are gathered via special viewfinders. Although children may not be the target audience for Ford cars, on their paths through the mall, they just might make a few impulse purchases along the way.
The level of corporate sponsorship reaches an even more absurd level with James River Corporation, "The Official Paper Supplier." Their Brawny Paper Towels is the sponsor of the Paul Bunyan Log Chute in Camp Snoopy. Appearing throughout the ride is "Brawny Presents Paul Bunyan's Log Chute." If that does not get the message across, the Brawny Man is painted onto the mural of the Log Chute cabin. Among others, Pepsi is the "Official Soft Drink," Hormel is the "Official Hot Dog," and Holsum Foods is the "Exclusive Oil Supplier."
Mall of America is a rather typical mall, only bigger. The mall's design follows the golden rules of movement patterns that lead the consumer into the greatest number of stores. The mall's entrances lead directly from the parking lots into department stores or into the centers of corridors, escalators are placed far apart and benches and greenery strategically block direct access across corridors. Every aspect of the mall encourages consumerism; the amenities exist to draw people to the mall, to get them to spend more money and to keep them shopping longer. An informal study by the mall's public relations department indicates that their tactics are working. While the national average for a shopping visit is roughly one hour and spending averages $32.00 per visit, they maintain the average visit at Mall of America lasts three hours and results in $87.00 in sales per visit.19 Another poll taken by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that half of the state's adults had visited the megamall within eight months of its opening.20
The mall's four main shopping corridors encircle Knott's Camp Snoopy, the seven-acre, four-story skylit, central atrium. Each corridor has a different theme and mixture of stores and amenities that cater to the type of clientele that may pass from one department store to the next.
South Avenue, considered the most upscale corridor, links Macy's and Bloomingdale's and is described as "an urban promenade reminiscent of the great shopping streets of Europe."21 The peach, cream, green, grey and rust color scheme was chosen for its urban qualities, as were the formal, rectilinear details, which seem inspired more by the design of highway interchanges rather than a high-class European street like the Champs Elysee. The Lego Imagination Center, designed by Norwalk, Connecticut-based Jeters, Cook and Jepson, is a three-story fantasy Lego Factory containing giant models of clowns and dinosaurs and, most importantly, a retail section for Lego toys and licensed clothing. South Avenue's fourth level contains the "Theater District," more precisely a 14-screen General Cinema multiplex.
West Market, linking Macy's and Nordstrom, caters to "young professionals." The atmosphere is that of a refurbished marketplace, similar to reconstituted malls like South Street Seaport in New York or Fanneuil Hall in Boston. Replete with rigidly regulated kiosks, street vendors and eateries, the painted metal and glass roof allows natural light to fill the enclosed space, while the architectural details made of painted metal with brass accents appear to be for exterior use. At the center of West Market is Market Square, a performance and exhibition area linking the West Parking and the amusement park. The color palette consists of cool greys with peach and green accents. The storefronts aim for an "international character" through the use of painted metal and wood, stone, tile, brass and chrome. Stores like Williams-Sonoma, The Limited, Oshman's and Warner Bros. Studio Store, are all part of international corporations whose products and stores are profitable because they have a reputable, easy to identify, predictable image -- free of any kink that may surprise or antagonize. Trying to reconcile an illusion of individuality or site-specificity with multinational, nonsite-specific corporate identities is an oxymoronic design feat.
North Garden is a winding recreation of Main Street, but now, it is both indoors and on private property. As it links Nordstrom to Sears, it is the most low-end of the middle class corridors, indulging mainstream tastes. The intention is for an "outdoor ambience," so heavy landscaping and white trellised gazebos and balconies abound. Skylights may bring in natural sunlight, but the overall effect is more 1950's indoor patio than "a park-like setting."22 The design specifications for this section call for canvas awning overhangs, plant covered balconies and wooden trellises. Storefronts have gabled portico entries, multi-paned windows, raised wood panels and planters. Predominant colors are white and green, with details in burgundy -- Mall of America's official color. Complementing the outdoor feeling is a three-story hillside, Golf Mountain. It features two miniature golf courses among rocks, landscapes and waterfalls. Golf Mountain' entrance is through the third-floor Garden Terrace Food Court. The game path slopes down the hill, should one worry that strenuous activity might actually be involved.
Closing the circular path is East Broadway, linking Sears to Bloomingdale's. Like the Times Square area that it attempts to emulate, this is an area that mixes different stratas of the middle-class. East Broadway carries the decor through with neon signs and high-tech materials like chrome, glass and polished stone. The color of choice is blue, with details in chrome, black, grey and gold. At the center of East Broadway, the Rotunda -- like Market Square, a performance and exhibition area -- links the East Parking to the main entrance of Knott's Camp Snoopy. The aim is for an "upbeat and contemporary appeal," but one cannot help but find East Broadway lacking in comparison to the original historic urban district. The mall's success depends precisely on filtering out those colorful lowlifes and undesirables that are a major part of Times Square.
At the very heart of Mall of America is perhaps its most successful architectural element, Knott's Camp Snoopy. The articulation of the columns and beams supporting enormous skylights are reminiscent of vast, high-tech factories. The park compresses four theaters, nine food places, seven boutiques and twenty-one rides and attractions on seven acres. Costing anywhere between $1.00 to 2.50 per ride, the most memorable attractions are the "Paul Bunyan Log Chute by Brawny" with a 40-foot drop and the "Pepsi Ripsaw" rollercoaster reaching 60 feet at its peak. The mix of high-tech interior structure with the summer-camp atmosphere created by the trees, log cabins, and vernacular sheds make a surreal juxtaposition -- part childhood memory, part brave new world. As far as theme parks go, Camp Snoopy is generally well planned. Besides providing a place to keep children entertained while parents continue to spend more money, the primary purpose of a theme park -- like the mall -- is to increase consumption by creating an illusion of entertainment. Food places and shops surround all the park's exits, and there are no less than eight automatic teller machines and six ticket vending booths evenly spread over the seven acre park.
Malls have pretty much supplanted town centers as the "public realm" for most Americans. Malls are the destination of choice especially for teenagers, senior citizens and housewives because they are viewed as safer than the unhomogenized, unpredictable streets of true public shopping districts. Reinforced by the mall's unarmed private security force dressed to resemble real police officers, this perception of security within the mall is one of the most important factors for consumers and merchants, even more important apparently than freedom of speech and of assembly.
Even though malls now serve as the town center for a huge segment of the population, they are not supplying forums for civic activity. The courts have repeatedly upheld the view that a developer's domain is private and that anything hindering the mall's livelihood can be expelled from the developer's property. Anything that might distract the patron from consumption can be barred from the mall, including the homeless, large groups of minority teenagers, charity organizations and political protesters. In the 1972 landmark Supreme Court decision of Lloyd Corp. versus Tanner -- and again in the 1976 case of union picketers versus another mall -- Justice Thurgood Marshall proclaimed in his dissenting opinion: "Shopping center owners have assumed... the traditional role of the state in its control of First Amendment forums."23 Now that malls were the new Main Street, developers were quick to point out that they were supported solely by consumerism, not by public funds and taxes. If the mall's business suffered from religious and political fanatics, the free-speaking public would not bail them out.
The public responsibility versus private property dilemma is more complicated at Mall of America. Perhaps some malls operate purely outside public expenditure, but in the Mall of America, $150 million in public bonds put the wheels in motion, and the surrounding infrastructure is still maintained by the city. Mall of America provides classrooms at nominal rates for 500 elementary public school students, children of mall employees, paid for by five surrounding school districts.24 Before shops open, the mall walking club allows senior citizens to track their miles between 7:00 and 10:00 a.m. Mall of America sponsors fashion shows, craft fairs and other innocuous, apolitical activities in the hopes of attracting more shoppers. While Mall of America shies away from anything remotely offensive, they did permit Salvation Army santas to solicit donations at Christmas time from specially designated posts. They were even allowed to ring their bells.25
The addition of housing at the mall, currently still on the drawing board, would complicate matters even further. Other malls with housing are in dense urban locations, with public forums available immediately outside the buildings. Mall of America is immediately surrounded by enormous parking lots and, beyond that, suburbia. There is no readily available public meeting place besides shopping malls. The political implications of a lack of public forum are similar to those of Los Angeles's car-based society. The lack of options for petitioning and protesting leads to easier control, sedation and manipulation of society. Rather than removing a potential audience in downtown public streets in a car-based society, developers deny free-speech's access to pedestrians in their private malls.
Although Mall of America's developers maintain that living there would be a desirable proposition, the tragic situation is that they believe people would rather live in a sedating fantasy world of a mall than in the public realm. Rights of free speech and assembly may sometimes be unsettling, but they are more precious than false security. The public realm may be uncomfortable at times for its messy reality, but Mike Davis's vision of mall life is even more frightening:
"Ultimately, the aims of contemporary architecture and the police converge most strikingly around the problem of crowd control. [Designers of malls] enclose the mass that remains, directing its circulation with behaviorist ferocity. It is lured by visual stimuli of all kinds, dulled by musak, sometimes even scented by invisible aromatizers. This Skinnerian orchestration, if well conducted, produces a veritable commercial symphony of of swarming, consuming monads moving from one cash point to another."26
Chapter 4 Endnotes
1. The largest mall in the world, at 5.2 million square feet, is the West Edmonton Mall, whose developer the Triple Five Corp. is also the co-developer of Mall of America. The Del Amo Mall in Los Angeles, at 3.0 million square feet, is the third place contestant. See Margaret Crawford, "The World in a Shopping Mall", Variations on a Theme Park, New York, Hill and Wang. 1992, pg. 3.
2. Although Mall of America's statistics vary wildly from one article to the next, the numbers listed in this paragraph are from the Mall of America's opening press package. See also John Voelecker, "At New Mega Mall, Security is Outta Sight", Metropolis, July/Aug. 1992, pg. 14.
3. Mary Ann Galante, "Mixing Marts and Theme Parks", New York Times, June 14, 1989, pg. B1.
4. The term edge city comes from Joel Garreau's book of the same title. He sets the requirements as: has 5 million or more square feet of leaseable office space (which Mall of America does not have yet, though nearby construction for relocating corporate headquarters might just do the trick), 600,000 or more square feet of retail space, more jobs than bedrooms, is perceived by the population as one place, and was nothing like a city 30 years ago. See Garreau, Edge City, New York, Noonday Press, 1991, pg. 6-7.
5. See 2.
6. All refences to other malls in this paragraph can be found in Crawford, ibid., pg. 25. See also E.B. Wallace, "Houston's Cluster and the Texas Urban Agenda", Texas Architect, Sept./Oct. 1984, pg. 4.
7. I will go much further into this topic later in this chapter. See William Kowinski, The Malling of America, New York, W. Morrow, 1985, pg. 354-9.
8. Southdale had two department stores and opened to the public three years later, in 1956. Gruen had already built several other pioneering malls, most notably Northland, which was still open-air. Kowinski, ibid, pg. 115-119.
9. Crawford, ibid, pg. 22.
10. The term coined by the mall industry refers to the similarity between television and the mall, except that the mall's "programs" are the indistinguishable from "advertising." Kowinski, ibid., Chapter 8.
11. Crawford, ibid., pg. 12-13.
12. According to the press release.
13. The estimate given for the protestors, excluding the 86,000 Bloomington residents was 84,000, see Wilkesron, "Megamall," New York Times, June 9, 1989, pg. A14. The press release boasts an average of 90,000 weekday visitors and 200,000 weekend visitors.
14. Wilkerson, ibid, pg. A14.
15. Trachtenberg, "Big Spenders," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 30, 1990, pg. A14.
16. According to the press release.
17. Jerry Jacobs, The Mall, Prosepect Heights, IL, Waveland Press, 1984, pg. 55.
18. All the information on official sponsors is from the press release.
19. From an interview with P.R. Manager Michele Biesiada. The polls were taken in August and in April.
20. Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 6, 1993.
21. In the press release and in the Mall of America Magazine distibuted for its opening.
23. Chapter 37 of Kowinski, ibid, is an excellent source of legal history concerning free-speech and malls.
24. Rhonda Hillbery, "Report Cards, Credit Cards Vie at the Mall," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1991, pg. A5.
25. The Salvation Army has well-documented problems getting malls to even allow them onto the premises to solicit contributions at Christmas time. See David Streitfeld "The Malling of the Salvation Army," Washington Post, Nov. 28, 1989, pg. C5.
26. Davis, Fortress L.A., pg. 257.
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