The March 16 opinion piece on the Mall of America water park (“Taxpayers bathe in the water park deal”) is not valid.
I’ve always respected Art Rolnick and Mike Meyers, but I’m very disappointed with their flawed analysis. I’m equally disappointed that while they were happy to quote me, they didn’t reach out to hear the Bloomington side of the story.
The truth is, Bloomington has a long history of making bold decisions. In the late 1970s, faced with an empty MetLife Stadium, Bloomington’s leaders considered their options and seized on the venue’s bold vision—the grand adventure of the Mall of America (MOA). It continues to grow even as retail and traditional malls face challenges. MOA is booming today.
Beyond the MOA itself, Bloomington’s economic growth over the past 30 years justifies this bold decision. Unique amenities in and around MOA, including the now proposed water park at MOA, continue to pay dividends by attracting many new businesses, hotels and restaurants to entertain and serve our large numbers of visitors.
The hospitality industry is Bloomington’s largest industry and, combined with MOA, accounts for more than 20% of the city’s revenue. A healthy and thriving hospitality industry significantly reduces the overall tax burden for Bloomington residents and businesses. In fact, the dynamism of our South Ring district is critical to the city’s ability to successfully attract other businesses to diversify its economic base.
We believe Bloomington has one of the strongest economic growth records in the region. Our strength in hospitality is critical to the entire metropolitan area’s ability to attract events such as the Super Bowl, Ryder Cup and the Women’s Final Four, which will take place in a matter of weeks. We are proud to be a regional partner.
The proposed water park will be a regional facility that will be visited by people from all over the world and bring taxes to the area. The project will be the largest indoor water park in North America, a Disney-level attraction that will welcome approximately 1 million visitors a year.
With nearly 40 million people entering MOA’s doors each year, this water park will add to the city’s entertainment and tourism mix, which we’re proud to say includes the existing Great Wolf Water Park (think cluster facilities like Wisconsin Dells).
Let me correct what was wrongly described as a project risk. The water park will be privately funded. If for some reason the water park doesn’t go as planned, Bloomington’s taxpayers won’t be in the dark.
But large projects like this often require subsidies. In fact, just look at Great Wolf, which built another water park in Garden Grove, California, in the middle of the competitive Southern California hotel and tourism industry. There, Great Wolf requested and received $100 million in public investment to complete its $250 million project. It’s been a success: The Great Wolf property in Garden Grove is one of the city’s biggest taxpayers.
The Bloomington City Council and Port Authority approved on March 9, 2022, a subsidy in the form of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for the proposed project. TIF funds are property taxes generated by the project itself. Rolnick and Meyers dishonestly said more than $100 million would go to the water park. In fact, the bulk of TIF funding will go to public improvement works traditionally funded by TIF, including projects such as roads, infrastructure and car parks. TIF’s investment in Minnesota is a way to accomplish a project that otherwise would not have happened. While some economists disagree with this approach, history shows that these investments are good for Minnesota.
We thought through these bold decisions with great success, which explains why the City Council and the Port of Bloomington Authority decided to help the water park project move forward. We will continue to be open to innovative ways to ensure our strong hospitality industry can be a dynamic partner throughout Minnesota.
Tim Busse is the mayor of Bloomington.