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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Subsidy Isn't Enough for Mall Owners Who Want to Feed at a Larger Public Trough


The Mall of America issued a line-in-the-sand response Tuesday to a revised subsidy package for the complex's $2 billion expansion, saying the project "has no chance of being built" unless changes are made.

In a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Raphael Ghermezian of Triple Five Corp., the mall's owner, increased the uncertainty for a project that promises to create 14,000 jobs and has been the subject of high-stakes negotiations as state legislators face a scheduled adjournment in just five days. Ghermezian's pointed statement came one day after legislators seemed cautiously optimistic that they had forged a subsidy plan that would pass the Legislature.

Though critics said the mall was likely bluffing in an attempt to get more public money, Ghermezian said the proposal to build 5.6 million square feet of hotels, office, stores and a water park would not occur unless a "final workable solution" was found.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung acknowledged that Ghermezian's comments indicated that "from the mall's perspective, [it] seems to spell an end" to the latest attempt to satisfy both the mall and those opposed to large-scale public subsidies for the project.

"While others may claim that [the new plan] provides the resources and bonding authority to build the project, I must respectfully disagree," Ghermezian said.

"The bonding authority is so fraught with conditions and obstacles that I wouldn't ask my team to spend any time trying to place either public or private financing based on it," said Ghermezian, whose flamboyant family had the original vision for the Mall of America, which opened in 1992 as the largest indoor mall in the country.

Sen. Dan Larson, DFL-Bloomington, and others were skeptical. "You don't know what to believe when you're dealing with these folks," said Larson, who said he would vote against a 279-page omnibus tax bill because it included subsidies for the mall. "They've sort of perfected the art of the 'over ask.'"

Hopefully this kills it. However these things, like Stadium subsidies, like vampires seem to have the habit of rising from the dead.