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Ghermezians Betting on Mall of America Expansion

Triple Five of Minnesota Inc., the managing partner of Mall of America, on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious $1 billion expansion plan that would nearly double the size of the nation's largest retail destination. But the scheme hinges on the state approving a proposed 220,000-square-foot Indian casino that would sit atop the expanded complex.

The 4-million-square-foot expansion--which has several big hurdles before it can become reality--would only half consist of new retail. The project, designed by KKE Architects, seems to have more in common with Mills Corp.'s Xanadu Meadowlands project than with the existing Mall of America. Developers will add features such as the casino, hotel towers, a concert hall, an ice rink and an indoor golf course to the 4.2-million-square-foot property.

Triple Five presented the project yesterday at town hall meetings in Bloomington where reception was mixed. Before it can move ahead, the Minnesota state legislature must approve the issuance of a casino license to three Indian tribes. But that could take months. The legislature convenes next week and adjourns in May. A mall spokesperson was unsure when the legislature would consider the issue. Moreover, the mall is not the only possible site for the casino.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, had previously proposed that the state partner with three northern Indian tribes on a Twin Cities casino to bring the state and the tribes additional revenues.

And even if the legislature does approve the casino, Triple Five would still have to secure approvals from Bloomington for the expansion and possibly need voters to approve the casino through a referendum.

"We're at the very beginning of the process," the spokesperson said.

If the casino falls through, Triple Five intends to alter the plans, but is intent on seeing some sort of expansion through.

The entire new wing will be themed around Europe with districts modeled after Rome, Versailles, Little Italy, Tivoli Gardens, Venice and Champs Elysees. The retail in the new district will consist of European fashion boutiques and two as-yet-unnamed "high fashion" department stores. The project will also bring an Ikea to the mall.

On the proposed expansion's upper levels will sit a 220,000-sqquare-foot cinema, a 6,000-seat concert hall, a casino and four hotel towers ranging between 12 and 14 stories and containing 1,500 rooms.

-- David Bodamer

TAGS: Development
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