Thursday, March 22, 2007

State Should Partner With Mall of America

By Christopher Truscott

When it comes to economic development, you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

For the Twin Cities, and Minnesota as a whole, that means Mall of America. It’s a big-ticket destination that draws tens of millions of visitors and their wallets to our area each year and it has the potential to lure even more tourists and tax revenue.

Is it as historically important as Colonial Williamsburg? Of course not.

Is it as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon? Nope.

Is it as serene as Lake Superior’s North Shore? Ha!

Is it as majestic as the monuments in Washington, D.C.? Heavens no.

The Mall of America is a big, gaudy shopping mall. It’s also our trump card in the competition for tourism at the regional, national and global levels. Like it or not, it’s a favorable part of the image the outside world has of us.

Tourism shouldn’t be taken lightly. Visitors come, spend money and leave. It’s a win-win scenario. You don’t have to do things like educate their kids or build infrastructure for their neighborhoods in exchange for the significant contribution they make to the state’s coffers.
East Broadway
A nearly $2 billion development plan would make the mall an even bigger attraction that pays greater dividends for Minnesota. The cost to the taxpayer? Another local property tax exemption and a $181 million parking ramp paid for by the state. While that’s a significant public contribution, it’s also a solid investment in our state’s future competitiveness.

Despite personal misgivings we may have about the mall itself, we must support it. This isn’t a subsidy. It’s not a bail-out. It’s a partnership between the state and a valuable institution. Somebody, somewhere is going to get the investment the mall’s owner plans to make. Why shouldn’t that money be spent in Minnesota?

Surely if the Legislature can approve a Twins’ stadium deal in which the taxpayer picks up three-quarters of the $520 million tab, lawmakers can find no fault in a much smaller cash contribution to a far more spectacular plan.

Granting public subsidies to private business is certainly distasteful and it should be, but Minnesota didn’t make the rules. Across America – and around the world, for that matter – governments are partnering with the private sector on significant projects. For us to decide to do otherwise would be akin to a professional sports team owner forsaking the free agent market because he believes players should be loyal to their original team. It’s simply an idea from another era and if we don’t discard that antiquated mindset we’re going to find it more difficult to compete in the coming years.

Calvin Coolidge was right when he said: “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.” But that doesn’t mean we should pass up easy shots at growing our economy.

While it might feel good to say no to the mall today, in the long run it would be at best shortsighted and at worst, to use a phrase popularized by our very distinguished governor, “profoundly stupid.”

Christopher Truscott can be reached at He actually loathes the Mall of America.

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