Don Heinzman column: Minneapolis and Bloomington’s long struggle over retail, sports

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Don Heinzman

Don Heinzman

What ever happened to the once-vibrant Minneapolis downtown retail sector? With the recent loss of the Macy’s department store and the announced closing of the Barnes and Noble bookstore, it’s a reminder of how much has changed downtown in the last few decades. But why has it changed?

Four words: The Mall of America.

I was the editor of the Bloomington Sun Suburbanite when Bloomington was the home of the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota North Stars.

I believe Bloomington was chosen because it was located on a neutral site between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, fans poured into the stadiums. Who can forget the tailgate parties? Some were so lavish they included candelabras and vases of flowers on portable tables, with hungry fans serenaded by wisps of smoke from steaks on the grill.

And then in 1965, the Minnesota Twins battled the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series in a seven-game thriller won by the Dodgers.

Bloomington, Minnesota, was broadcast over the airwaves throughout the world, much to the envy of Minneapolis leaders.

That was the beginning of the end of major sports leagues in Bloomington, as downtown leaders gathered at the Minneapolis Athletic Club, determined to lure teams to downtown Minneapolis.

It came down to a battle between Minneapolis with an offer of a domed stadium, the Metrodome, and Bloomington’s offer of a new outdoor football and baseball stadium.

The Stadium Commission’s vote was 3-2 in favor of the Minneapolis Metrodome. There was a rumor that one of the Viking owners called the commission the morning of that vote and reportedly threatened to take the Vikings out of this area if the Minneapolis proposal were defeated.

I was a member of the Bloomington delegation that gathered at the Radisson South Hotel for a mournful meeting following the vote.

Bloomington Mayor Jim Lindau spoke to us and predicted “Someday there would be something big at that site.” I am sure he had in mind a hotel and apartment complex.

The site with its location near the airport and the freeway interchange had one other attraction – over-sized sanitary and storm sewers and highways leading to the stadium site.

The rest is history as the Bloomington Port Authority purchased the 78-acre site and successfully marketed it as a mixed-use retail and entertainment center.

Today the MOA is the largest shopping mall in the United States, based on retail space, according to worldatlas.com. The mall has over 520 stores and 50 restaurants and a major amusement park known as Nickelodeon Universe.

There are 47 hotels, many along the 494 “strip,” thanks in part to the Mall of America.

There are still some reminders of the former baseball park that used to be located at the site of the mall. If you look closely you can find an original home plate in the northwest corner of Nickelodeon Universe. And a seat from the old Metropolitan Stadium, where Harmon Killebrew’s 522-foot home run landed in the second deck, now hangs above a flume ride.

Once a major league sports town, Bloomington is now a major league retail center. Minneapolis has the stadiums. Who really won will be debated for years to come.

 

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.

 

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