August 04, 2017 11:51 AM
It's been 10 years since John Wheeler left his longtime post as general manager at the Mall of America.
But he gets back. And there are times - all these years later - when he still finds himself impressed by what he experiences.
"Especially when you've been away from it for a while," said Wheeler, who now works as a consultant in the Twin Cities.
"When you're there every day, it just becomes what you're used to. But when you go away for awhile then come back to the place, there are aspects that still amaze you," he said. "Especially seeing everything people have done since I left - how the place has continued to evolve and grow."
These days, MOA is a Minnesota fixture and perhaps the state's best-known tourist destination.
But when Wheeler and company were getting ready to open the doors to the complex for the first time 25 years ago, it was still a relatively untested concept.
Even after ground was broken in June of 1989, the so-called mega-mall had its naysayers. Wheeler and his staff were well aware of them.
"There were people who said we'd never open," he said. "And people who said we'd never get tenants. People who said we'd never open on time, or that nobody would ever want to go there. We heard all those things and it made us want to work harder to make sure they were wrong."
Still ... mixing roller coasters and retail ... commerce and cotton candy. Would it work in the Twin Cities?
"We really had no idea how many people were going to show up the day we opened," he added. "We felt we had a pretty spectacular place. But it was new, and we just didn't know what to expect."
Before MOA ... the Met
Dave Goltz doesn't profess to hold any great emotional attachment to the Mall of America. Even if the shopping mall/entertainment complex was built on the spot that was essentially his office for a number of years.
MOA - which opened 25 years ago this month - stands on the site that once was Metropolitan Stadium. The Met was home to both the Minnesota Twins and Vikings until closing in 1981 when both teams moved to the Metrodome.
That meant it was Goltz's home stadium when the Pelican Rapids native pitched for the Twins from 1972-79 as part of a 12-season Major League Baseball career.
A brass plaque in the shape of home plate was placed in the floor of the mall's amusement park (now known as Nickelodeon Universe), marking where home plate was at the Met.
"I've had my picture taken there," Goltz said. "My sons and grandsons have too. But knowing home plate is there is really the only connection between the two to me. Otherwise, it's just a shopping mall.
"It's hard to feel like you're back at the old Met when we were playing outside and the whole mall is inside now."
Still, Goltz said he thinks the mall has been good for Minnesota.
"It's certainly drawn a lot of people," he said. "That's great for the Twin Cities area."
Any such fears began to subside, though, as buzz built in advance of the mall's opening.
The first store - Sears - opened its doors on Aug. 5, 1992. Macy's opened for the first time the next day, followed by Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom on Aug. 7.
But the mall proper, including the Camp Snoopy amusement park, didn't open until Aug. 11 - a day the Star Tribune reported saw around 150,000 people pass through the glass doors.
All 13,000 parking spots were full by noon, and 20,000 rides had already been taken at Camp Snoopy in the mall's first four hours of operation, the newspaper reported.
"There were lines of people waiting outside the door that morning," said longtime Bloomington director of community development Larry Lee, who has worked for the city since 1978. "It was pretty clear it had turned into a pretty significant happening."
Still, despite the large numbers of people, the day seemed to run smoothly. Not that Wheeler recalls much about it.
"It was just kind of a blur," he said. "There was so much going on and so many aspects to keep track off and monitor.
"I had so many great people working with me directly, and so many great people in all the stores and the amusement park. We had a good plan in place. But so much was happening that day. It was one big rush."
But that rush was just the beginning, and 25 years later, MOA is still going strong. Both Lee and the mall say it draws about 40 million visitors a year.
There have been changes over the years - Camp Snoopy, for example, eventually became Nickelodeon Universe over a period of several years in the mid-to-late 2000s.
But the mall has continued to grow, now covering 5.6 million square feet of gross building area.
"They pushed the doors open, and people flooded in (25 years ago)," Lee said, "and the doors have barely been closed since."
Updated: August 04, 2017 11:51 AM
Created: August 03, 2017 03:14 PM
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