If you’ve ever come out of a museum thinking, “Well, that was interesting, but now I could really go for an Orange Julius,” the Mall of America has good news for you.
With its new Exhibit Center, the Bloomington mall has officially entered the museum business. Management hopes to turn the massive shopping and entertainment destination into a place that people also visit for edification — and maybe a pair of jeans or some chicken wings while they’re at it.
“We’re sort of testing the waters to see if this concept can work,” said Jennifer Lauerman, senior marketing director. “So far, the numbers are telling us it can.”
A 60,000-square-foot area in a corner of the mall formerly occupied by Bloomingdale’s has been reinvented as a showcase for rotating exhibits — two at the moment, with more on the way.
The 30,000-square-foot “Barbie: The Dreamhouse Experience” is a larger-than-life replica of the Mattel doll’s abode. Since it opened in February, nearly 30,000 visitors have roamed the attraction’s eye-searingly pink rooms and played with its interactive features, ranging from electronic games to hands-on crafts and costumes.
Across the hall, though miles apart in subject matter and ambience, is “CSI: The Experience,” a spookily lit walk-through version of the TV drama. Visitors play crime-scene investigators, searching for clues and analyzing them in an interactive “lab,” while TV characters and professionals appear on screens explaining real-life forensic techniques.
Beginning May 16, the center’s third space will hold “Star Trek: The Exhibition,” a traveling collection of original artifacts from the TV series and movies.
The Fab 400
Meanwhile, in another part of the mall, a different museum space will soon showcase music-themed exhibits, beginning with a collection of Beatles artifacts.
The 5,000-square-foot Midwest Music Museum will be operated by the owners of the 400 Bar, the Minneapolis music club that closed in 2012 and is being reinvented as a mall entertainment complex including the museum as well as a restaurant and live-music venue.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!” is a joint project with the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Memorabilia and videos from the band’s heyday will be on display June 4 to Sept. 8.
“Our seasonally touring exhibits will celebrate the biggest names in music,” 400 Bar business partner Joe O’Brien said. “We’re also developing a permanent exhibit showcasing our region’s [musical] history. How did we get from Native American song to polka to ‘Funkytown’ to modern times?”
Empty space: the new frontier
The megamall is not quite untrodden territory for museum-style exhibits. In 2012, it held “Diana: A Celebration,” about the late princess of Wales. And the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium (formerly UnderWater World) has been part of the mall since 1996.
What’s new is the mall’s decision to use exhibits to broaden its appeal vs. online shopping and other entertainment options. It’s an idea that has caught on at malls elsewhere as a way to use retail space vacated in the recession.
The Exhibit Center is intended to generate revenue of its own, while also enticing folks away from their computers and within spending distance of Sox Appeal and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
“The mall business is changing a bit,” Lauerman said. “We think one of the ways we can remain competitive is by continuing to offer fresh new attractions.”