It took 71 miles of copper wire and 15,000 feet of optical fiber to do it, but the Mall of America finally has mallwide free Wi-Fi.
The biggest tourist destination in the Midwest hasn’t started promoting its wireless data service. But mall executives say a surprising number of shoppers have been tapping into the Wi-Fi network since it was turned on earlier this month.
It’s one of several upgrades and new services the Mall of America is rolling out in advance of the holiday shopping season, when the mall’s corridors are at their busiest and stores ring up their biggest sales.
Developers are racing to also launch the mall’s first-ever smartphone app in time for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. The premier feature of the app will be a mapping function to help visitors navigate the overwhelming list of 500-plus stores spread out among the mall’s four levels.
And on Nov. 9, the mall will debut its new “front door,” an entrance along the north side that is part of the new expansion the mall started opening in waves starting this summer. Shoppers will be able to use that entrance to access about 2,600 new parking spots as well as a new valet service.
While Wi-Fi is a common feature found these days at airports, big-box stores and other shopping malls, the Mall of America is a relative latecomer in offering it. It’s been a challenge because of the mall’s vast size, spanning more than 4 million square feet across multiple levels, including underground.
Over the years, the mall has heard an earful from shoppers about the lack of Wi-Fi. Officials directed people to access the Internet in coffee shops like Starbucks and stores like Nordstrom that offer Wi-Fi. So the addition of Wi-Fi is a relief to mall officials while also a bonus to shoppers who often like to use their smartphones to look up product reviews, find coupons and deals or post things on social media while they are shopping.
Some of the other new features the mall is adding are aimed at helping to address another common complaint of Mall of America shoppers: parking.
“We have a lot of traffic on a Saturday,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of business development and marketing. “So if that’s when you want to shop, we don’t want parking to be a deterrent.”
It can also be a hassle to walk to the other side of the mall to get to your car. So the new valet service is aimed at addressing both of those issues. It is already up and running at the adjoining Radisson Blu hotel. Two more drop-off and pickup points will be added once the north entrance opens next month — one on the surface level and one in an underground lot. A fourth access point will be added at the new J.W. Marriott when it opens later in November.
Shoppers will be able to drop off their vehicle at any of those four locations. Shoppers can keep in contact with the valet company via text and a mobile website to state where they want to pick up their car to save them from having to traipse across the other side of the mall.
The valet service will cost about $10. Down the road, mall executives say they are looking to include the valet service as part of promotions to reward their best shoppers. They might even use it to “surprise and delight” shoppers by leaving extra treats or gifts in their cars.
Nordstom and Macy’s, which have their own valet services, will not initially be included in the mall’s valet program.
The opening of the new north entrance will also mean visitors will have a lot more parking spaces. The area off Lindau Lane includes about 2,000 new parking spaces along with about 600 spots in a new underground parking garage. Hotel shuttles, taxis and tour buses will drop off shoppers at the new entrance, while Metro buses and the light rail will continue to use the transit station along the east side.
Outside the new entrance, a 16-foot-tall, 12,000-pound multicolored glass star sculpture of the mall’s emblem has been installed. It will be lit at night, and mall officials hope it will become a place for visitors from around the world to take pictures to commemorate their visit to the mall.
Once the new front door opens, shoppers will also get access to the first and second floors of the new $325 million expansion. But the mall is still working to lease out the space and so there won’t be any stores in it this holiday shopping season, Renslow said.
“It’s always been a two-year leasing plan” for that space, she said.
In the meantime, the mall will fill those walls with some installations from local artists.
The third floor of the expansion, which has been turned into a food court dubbed Culinary on North, opened over the summer. While some fast-food joints have already opened there, other fast-casual chains such as Piada Italian Street Food are expected to open in the coming weeks.
But the mall is far from done. It recently submitted plans to the city of Bloomington for its next phase, which would add more than 1 million square feet. The retail portion will be called The Collections at MOA and is intended to be more of a destination for luxury shopping. Construction could begin as early as April with a grand opening scheduled for fall 2018.