Art critique

Counterpoint: The Water Park Review Is All Wet

The March 16 opinion piece on the Mall of America’s water park (“Taxpayers take a dip on water park deal”) doesn’t hold water.

I have long respected Art Rolnick and Mike Meyers, but I was very disappointed in their flawed analysis. I was also disappointed that while they were happy to quote me, they didn’t reach out to hear the Bloomington side of the story.

The facts are that Bloomington has a long history of making bold decisions. Faced with an empty Met Stadium in the late 1970s, Bloomington executives weighed their options and seized on the bold vision of this site – the big business that is the Mall of America (MOA). It has grown and evolved even as traditional retail and malls have faced challenges. MOA is booming today.

And beyond the MOA itself, the growth of Bloomington’s economy over the past 30 years proves the bold move was the right one. Unique amenities in and around MOA, now including the proposed MOA Water Park, continue to pay dividends by attracting many new businesses, hotels and restaurants to entertain and serve our large number of visitors.

Hospitality is Bloomington’s largest industry, and when combined with the MOA, it accounts for more than 20% of the city’s revenue. A healthy and thriving hospitality industry significantly reduces the overall tax burden on Bloomington residents and businesses. The vitality of our South Loop District has, in fact, been critical to the city’s ability to successfully attract other businesses to diversify our economic base.

We believe Bloomington has one of the best economic development records in the region. And our strength in hospitality has been critical to the entire metro area’s ability to attract events like the Super Bowl, Ryder Cup and Women’s Final Four that will take place here in just a few weeks. We are proud to be a regional partner.

The proposed water park will be a regional facility that will be visited by people from all over and will bring in dollars for local taxpayers. The project would be the largest indoor water park in North America, a Disney-level attraction that will see around 1 million visitors a year.

Nearly 40 million people pass through MOA’s gates each year and this water park will add to the city’s entertainment and sightseeing mix, which we’re proud to say includes the existing Great Wolf Water Park (think amenities grouped as Wisconsin Dells).

Let me correct what was wrongly labeled as project risk. This water park will be privately funded. If for any reason the water park does not go as planned, the taxpayers of Bloomington will not be responsible.

But big projects like this often need grants. In fact, look no further than Great Wolf, which has built another of its water parks in Garden Grove, California, right in the middle of Southern California’s highly competitive hospitality and tourism industry. There, Great Wolf requested and received a public investment of $100 million to complete its $250 million project. And it was a success: the Great Wolf property in Garden Grove is one of the city’s top tax earners.

Approval by Bloomington City Council and Port Authority on March 9, 2022 grants the proposed project a grant in the form of tax increment financing (TIF). TIF funds are property taxes generated by the project itself. Rolnick and Meyers hypocritically state that more than $100 million will go to the water park. In fact, the lion’s share of TIF funding will go to public improvements that are traditionally funded by TIF, including things like roads, infrastructure and parking. The TIF investment in Minnesota has been a way to do things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Although some economists disagree with this practice, history has shown that these investments are good for Minnesota.

We reflect on these bold decisions and have had tremendous success, which is why Bloomington City Council and the Port Authority decided to help the water park project move forward. We will continue to be open to innovative ways to ensure our strong hospitality industry can be a dynamic partner for the entire state of Minnesota.

Tim Busse is mayor of Bloomington.