The first major clue was when “Star Wars: Rogue One” was absent from the lineup at the Mall of America’s movie theaters over the weekend.
The Bloomington megamall was not screening one of the biggest movie releases of the year because, it told patrons on Twitter, the theaters are closing for good next week.
Its 14 screens will fade to black at the end of the business day Wednesday to make way for a new “first-to-market entertainment venue” that will open in late 2017, mall spokesman Dan Jasper said on Thursday. He did not share any other details about the new concept other than to say more information about it would be coming in January.
“Over the past 24 years, Mall of America has continually transformed, evolved and refreshed itself,” he said in a statement.
The theater’s impending closure and its still-mysterious replacement is the latest changeup to the mall’s often-in-flux fourth floor, which has seen many concepts come and go over the years. Earlier this week, a $12 million, 40,000-square-foot attraction called Smaaash opened with a multilevel go-cart track and virtual reality and video games, as well as a restaurant and bar. With its arrival, the Mall of America’s top floor became fully leased for the first time in years.
Originally envisioned as a hub for adult nightlife, the fourth level is also home to a Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy, Sky Deck Sports Grille and Lanes, Hooters, Cantina #1 and Dick’s Last Resort. Former tenants have included Planet Hollywood and Jillian’s.
“They just have not been able to find anything that is sustainable” on that floor, said Dave Brennan, a retailing professor at the University of St. Thomas.
He added that the movie theaters take up a lot of space in both square footage and height so it will be interesting to see if the new venue will take advantage of the overhead space with some sort of vertical element such as a climbing wall.
“They certainly have the space for it to be something big,” he said.
The news that the nation’s biggest mall will no longer have a place to see the latest films came as a surprise to many.
After all, movies and shopping malls have gone hand in hand for decades.
At the same time, movie attendance has been on the decline as people have gravitated toward watching movies at home through streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. That trend doesn’t show any sign of slowing down and the mall probably saw the writing on the wall while also wanting to differentiate its offerings from other suburban malls, Brennan said.
“It’s kind of sad — we used to go to it,” he said of the mall’s movie theaters. “But guess what, we haven’t been there for five or six years.”
Movie theaters have been part of the Mall of America’s offerings since the megamall first opened its doors in August 1992.
In 2008, the mall took over operations of them from AMC and rebranded them “Theatres at Mall of America,” Jasper said. It held some special events such as screenings with the sound turned down and lights left on to be more accommodating for autistic children. It also has a theater with D-Box Motion Code experience seats that move, as well as a theater with plush, high-back rocker seats where patrons could bring wine and alcohol inside.
Jasper from MOA added that the theaters were “successful” and were “consistently a strong performing independent theater in the market.”
Mike Muller, who used to own more than a dozen movie theaters around the Twin Cities until he sold the last of them earlier this year, said the Mall of America’s box office sales were not the highest among local theaters, but they were usually in the top 10, if not top 15.
“The mall is a destination — they draw people there because of the transportation,” he said, referring to the bus and train routes that have stops at the mall.
Still, he added that staying competitive these days requires a lot of pricey upgrades with perks such as lounging chairs, which was one of the reasons he got out of the business.
“Those chairs have really taken over the marketplace,” he said. “It’s not a cheap proposition.”
As for the movie theater employees, Mall of America said they have been offered other positions within the mall.