Crony Capitalism

Minnesota City Will Soak Taxpayers To Build a Water Park at the Mall of America

More than $60 million of government money could flow to a private water park next to the Mall of America.


The Twin Cities have spent gobs of public money on new baseball, football, and soccer stadiums in recent years. Not to be outdone, a Minneapolis suburb is now planning to flush away $7.5 million designing what would be one of the country's largest indoor water parks.

The city council of Bloomington, Minnesota, voted unanimously last month to team up with the privately owned Mall of America (located in Bloomington) on the water park project. That $7.5 million covers 75 percent of a development contract that will design the park; the Mall of America is paying for the other 25 percent. The mall plans to build the park on land currently occupied by a parking lot, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

The water park itself will be owned by a nonprofit that will lease the land from the corporation that owns the mall. If the water park failed to turn a profit, Bloomington would be allowed to impose a sales tax on the Mall of America to make up the difference—thanks to the state legislature, which passed a bill several years ago allowing the city to create a special sales tax zone specifically for the Mall of America.

"There really haven't been any red lights that have popped up as this thing has been looked at and studied," Mayor Gene Winstead tells the paper.

He must not be looking very hard. As the Star-Tribune previously reported, the Mall of America has sought for years to build a giant water park alongside the nation's biggest shopping mall, but Mall executives don't think the water park would generate enough revenue to be viable if it were privately funded.

That's a pretty damn big red flag right there.

In the long run, taxpayers could be soaked for another $50 million to pay for a parking garage (or "parking ramp" in Minnesotan) and another $8 million in infrastructure upgrades to get the site ready.

The project doesn't just look like a waste of Bloomington taxpayers' money. It seems fundamentally unfair. There's already a niche market for indoor water parks across the Upper Midwest, where they provide an easily accessible faux-tropical respite from the bitterly cold winters. If chains like Great Wolf Lodge—which owns an indoor water park literally right across the street from the Mall of America—and other privately owned  operations can survive without government handouts, there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for Bloomington to dive into that market.

"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," Murray Hennessy, CEO of Great Wolf Resorts, wrote in a letter to the Bloomington City Council. "If the water park project does not perform as projected, to recoup losses, Bloomington would have to levy additional taxes on admissions, food/beverage, lodging and sales tax. The additional taxes would further hinder tourism, and burden residents who routinely visit the Mall of America with their families."

After years of lobbying city officials and the state legislature, the mall seems to be closing in on getting the public funds it wants. Bloomington has approved what the Star-Tribune calls an "intricate plan" that "stretches the intended purpose of tax-exempt borrowing" to make all the numbers work.

"It appears like there is a desire by the [Mall of America] to have a water park attraction but not necessarily a tenant who wants to rent out the space and build it out to meet its needs," says Kimberly Lowe, a Minnesota-based attorney who specializes in nonprofit law. She tells Reason that the city may be trying to help the mall because "traditional lenders" are now less willing to finance mall projects given the recent contraction in retail sales.

The logic, such that it is, seems much like the justification for spending public money on sports stadiums. Sure, those are privately owned facilities built for privately owned teams, but they sorta seem like public spaces, since they serve as a gathering point for so many people. But in the end they're just cronyist giveaways to politically favored activities—a list that now apparently includes "watersliding."

If the city cared to look for more red flags, it could cast its eyes south to Nashville, Tennessee, where city officials recently drained $14 million out of public accounts to help build a private water park at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, open exclusively to hotel guests. In a 2017 poll conducted by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a pro-market think tank, voters named that water park project the second worst example of government waste in the state (trailing only a state-level economic development program that spent $67 milllion to create 55 jobs).

At least Bloomington's taxpayer-funded water park won't require a $250-per-night hotel stay for access, but that hardly justifies the project. If the Mall of America can't make a splash without getting a handout, maybe it should stay out of the pool.

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  1. The last thing the Mall of Mogadishu needs is a publicly financed indoor water park.

    Has Reason even bothered to mention the horrific act which transpired at the mall? Why fail to detail what 24 year old, career criminal, Emmanuel DeShawn Aranda did to 5 year old Landen Hoffman? In case some of you forgot, Aranda threw the little boy from a third floor railing at the mall. The youngster fell 40 feet.

    1. The entire concept of ‘the biggest Mall in America’ is so inherently evil that I somehow feel that the murder of one child is the least of what happens there. I’ve worked in Malls. They combine the horrors of THE PURGE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Rats in the Walls’ (and if you think every mall in America isn’t infested with rats, I have a Bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you).

      1. The man who.threw the little kid over the railing is mentally ill.
        Finding how a free society successfully deals with the mentally ill would ameliorate many societal problems, especially the gun debate.

        1. A great deal depends on what you consider successfully dealing with the mentally ill.

          If that means no mentally ill person ever harms themselves or another, then the answer to “how can a free society successfully deal with the mentally ill?” is probably: It can’t. Any society restrictive enough to do that is not one I would consider a “free society”.

          1. I have no solutions myself.
            If one makes a specific, violent threat — you’ll be tracked and surveilled by authorities?
            Domestic abuse — guns confiscated?
            Impaired driving accident (not just impaired driving) — driving restrictions?
            Or, one that I lean towards, the general public will have the violently mentally ill amongst them and plan accordingly.

            1. Non of those suggestions is dealing with “mental illnesss”. All of those things can and are done by people who are not “mentally ill” by any rational definition.

        2. Is he mentally ill, or just a low-impulse control malcontent?

        3. “Finding how a free society successfully deals with the mentally ill would ameliorate many societal problems”

          It’s like you haven’t even considered camps.

      2. I’d call it more insane than evil. The place is so damn big they have as many as 3 instances of the same damn chain retailer. I can see a mall wanting multiple clothing stores, but 3 GAP locations in one mall? WTF?

    2. Reason also seems to be overlooking the conviction of the Minneapolis PD Somali AA hire who gunned down the Australian Yoga Instructor.

      Maybe it’s because the races don’t fit the narrative.

      1. “Maybe?”

  2. The fact that there’s a privately owned water park right across the street is what really makes this go from disgusting to infuriating. Being forced to pay taxes that then are used to subsidize your competition is just so, so wrong.

    1. Tariffs do the same. Every stinking redistribution scheme does the same. What infuriates me about this is that it is such a local effort.

      1. Trump would be proud.

  3. Water parks are a human right.

  4. “Mall executives don’t think the water park would generate enough revenue to be viable if it were privately funded.”

    If it’s not viable privately funded it’s not viable publicly funded.

    What fucking morons.

  5. Is that a picture of a child being flushed down a toilet? Because it looks like a picture of a child being flushed down a toilet. Just saying.

    1. The better to pee in the communal water.

      1. Sometimes you are funny and actually make sense. It keeps you off my troll list [but just barely…].

    2. No. See the water coming out at the bottom of the picture? It’s a toilet bowl being tipped up to rescue the kid who wanted his own indoor water park.

    3. I thought it was the rinse cycle in a front-loading washer. ~60 years ago I was soooo spooked by the TV ad for Tide that showed a fully clothed girl and boy sinking into an agitating wringer washer. “Down we go!” It didn’t help that a few years later, “Soaky bubbles you clean like a washing machine.”

  6. There are still malls? There are still water parks?

    1. Wow, you must live somewhere that doesn’t have 11 months of mosquitoes and 13 months of winter.

      1. Is it the pee that keeps the mosquitos away? I thought that was jellyfish.

        1. I can only testify that alcohol, regardless of quantity ingested, is not the the answer to keeping mosquitoes away. I like to believe they only can imbibe off of me once though…

  7. The MOA is now more upscale than its previous years.
    Patrons are decently dressed, not fat-ass slobs wearing Minnesoda Vikings gear.

    1. How about constructing Rep Omar’s Little Mogadishu Sand Park and Sharia Fun Zone?

      1. Check out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with the Minnesoda Somali fox wearing her burkini. Allahu Akbar.

      2. Sharia Fun Zone; I’m going to be using that.

        1. “We put the “Fun” in Islamic Fundamentalism!”

    2. We had to dress it up so we could go to Shake Shack

  8. Have been to a couple of water parks with the kids and have not been impressed at the hygiene level. Our whole family got a severe stomach bug after one of them, can only imagine how bad a public water park at a mall would be-toilets are probably cleaner

  9. Hey, those tax dollars will not spend themselves.

  10. spelll check

  11. As with sports stadiums and light rail, any opposition to this grand scheme is a selfish malcontent who simply doesn’t understand that well all live in a village. Where is your public spirit, jerk? Now ante up and get with the program. The MOA NEEDS a water park, and since those self centered business people won’t dig into their own pockets to pay for it, it is UP TO US! Or do you just hate children?

  12. I have no sympathy.
    You deserve what you get if you live in Minnesota, Illinois, New York, New Jersey or the People’s Republic of California.

  13. Yes, the mall of Mogadishu is alive and well! surprisingly it seems that there are more and more vacancies as the retail apocalypse ensues. I’m sure the mall can survive with taxpayer subsidies and social service type tenants.

    The state of Minnesota is trying as hard as it can to retain citizens. Draining their wealth out with taxes makes it virtually impossible to move. just yesterday I got a notice from Hennepin county, the biggest county by population in Minnesota that they are raising the garbage tax from 11 to 15.5%!

    I called the jackass at the county and bitched, they could care less.

    Be careful when registering a car in Minnesota, it can be very expensive! Your yearly use tax – tabs, are higher than just about anywhere in the nation! What do we get? Horseshit roads!

    I could go on…

  14. Continuing…

    The state of Minnesota has spent about a hundred million redoing their license and tab system- look up mnlars.

    Rather than study and adopt a system that works from another state, the Democratic cronies decided to go on it their own.

    It does not work and is going to be scrapped, to the tune of another hundred million!

    Moving to Florida sooner than later.

  15. Do the Iranian mobsters the Ghermezians still own that dump?

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