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Home Places Destinations New Bloomington is a Force to be Reckoned With

New Bloomington is a Force to be Reckoned With

By Morgan Halaska

Sure, it’s Minneapolis that has the Super Bowl coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in 2018. But what some might overlook is the group effort that went into acquiring the national event—and Bloomington’s role in particular. “We were an intricate part of [the Super Bowl bid]; a very, very key factor,†says Bonnie Carlson, president and CEO, Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That is because of the over 9,000 hotel rooms [9,364 once the boutique AC Hotel by Marriott opens in February 2017] alone that we have.†Without Bloomington as a key partner to work with hotels to secure room blocks, Minneapolis would not have had the capacity to back up its winning bid

“People love to stay out here,†says Carlson. “All the free parking, they can jump on the light rail, which is going to deliver them at the front door of U.S. Bank Stadium. They can enjoy the Mall of America, the airport; it’s a winning combination.â€

Bloomington isn’t just a place to put your bags and leave for the day; the city takes part in the event experience. Take for example the 2016 Ryder Cup that took place at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska this past September. Yes, all of Bloomington’s hotels were full—some of which secured by the PGA—but the city also hosted ancillary events like the media party and the Golf Art Show at Bloomington’s Griffin Fine Art Gallery.

The city isn’t going unnoticed by developers, either. “What we’ve noticed the last couple of years, the city is receiving a lot of inquiries [for hotel development]. I just think they know it’s a great area,†says Carlson. “There’s land available here, it’s a hot spot for travelers, there’s the international airport at the doorstep.†East of Mall of America—known as the South Loop—is an actively developing area, according to Carlson: “This is an area that has room for development and they’re seeking new things to be put in there, so I think you can look for that in the future.â€

There’s “just about every brand†of hotel in Bloomington. Whether it’s economical or luxury, recently renovated or brand-spanking new, they all have one amenity in common. “Since day one, the Bloomington hotels have always offered complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport,†says Carlson. “When the Mall of America was developed 25 years ago, it only seemed natural that they would offer them there, too.â€Â 


MSP International Airport sees more than 36 million travelers a year, making it No. 16 in North America in terms of annual passengers. Wary travelers are in good hands at MSP, which is taking great strides to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. “We are reimagining the entire airport experience from parking to ticketing to baggage claim,†says Phoebe Larson, marketing strategist, Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). “A new 5,000-space parking ramp is planned for 2019 and four new gates will open at Terminal 2-Humphrey [in October].”

And arguably the most important update is to the restrooms.

There are 100 restrooms on campus that range from 15 to 54 years old. The renovation design process began in 2009, and construction on the first new restrooms on Concourses E and F completed in 2011. The program will continue through 2035, with 12 restrooms currently under construction. “While we have a basic prototype, we’re learning and improving with each build—tweaking as we go. There is a lot to consider: air flow, smell, cleaning, where to put one’s purse, etc.,†says Larson. “For example, there are no decks on the new sinks because decks always get wet, and you don’t need a deck in an airport restroom [instead there are hooks and shelves]. … The doors also open out, instead of in, creating more room for luggage, and the doors don’t close when they are not in use so you don’t have to knock or look for shoes under the stalls.â€

Pit stops before boarding have never been so pleasant—and that’s not to mention the public art. Depicting Minnesota’s natural beauty in the men’s and women’s restrooms at the South Airport Mall in Terminal 1, local artisan tile company Mercury Mosaics created 3,000 clay tiles by hand for the two murals. “Their artistry and professionalism is amazing, and we feel fortunate to feature their work at MSP,†says Larson.

But there’s an entire experience waiting to be had outside the restrooms. New restaurants and retail outlets are moving into the airport that will certainly treat travelers to local flavors and give them a sense of place. When Liz Grzechowiak started her position as assistant director of concessions and business development at MAC two years ago, all the leases in the retail and food and beverage program created 10 years ago were coming to an end. The first of two phases is currently underway, which will include 50 new units open by spring 2017. Phase two is still under development and will include 19 units representing 29-34 concepts; construction will begin after the Super Bowl. 

“Going local is a big trend at airports,†says Grzechowiak. “We want to have a strong representation of Minnesota,†noting there will also be a national brand presence. “You can’t build a program and not have points of comfort for people, whether that is a fast food restaurant or national chain.â€

But 23 of the 50 units are local operators or concepts, offering up a lot of firsts at MSP. Republic bar and restaurant opened in fall 2016 and has a live music partnership with McNally Smith College of Music. “This will be the first time that we’ll have a live music venue [in a unit] at the airport,†notes Grzechowiak. LoLo American Kitchen and Craft Bar out of Stillwater also opened October 2016, and is the airport’s “farm-to-terminal†concept with a craft cocktail focus. It’s the first of its kind at MSP, exemplifying the mold-breaking efforts in the new program. “When you’re serving the masses … about 90,000 people a day in the building, I think that there’s a perception that it could be really difficult to try to serve people at a really high level with a made-fromscratch kitchen,†says Grzechowiak. “Because really it’s all about efficiency. How do you get people what they want in this environment of stress and lack of time?†But sustainability and eating both locally and organically is important to consumers, and MSP is fulfilling the demand in a seemingly unlikely place. 

MSP is opening some one-of-a-kind concepts, too. Stone Arch—opened November 2016—puts Minnesota craft beers front and center, partnering with the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and restaurateur Ryan Burnet of Barrio, Burch and Bar La Grassa. “It will feature 24 local beers on tap plus a five-tap Craft Lab where local brewers can test out small batches and new releases and offer educational events to the traveling public,†explains Larson. Twins Grill showcases not only the Minnesota Twins, but also other sports teams from around the state, and comes complete with a hall of fame area. Red Cow, Salty Tart and Holy Land Deli will be part of MSP’s Food Truck Alley, a twist on the traditional food court.

Local favorites opening at MSP are taking the opportunity to reach new heights. Lake Wine and Cheese will be expanding on its Lake Wine and Spirits store to become a full-service restaurant as well as a wine retailer. Smack Shack’s airport location, slated to open late January 2017, comes on the heels of its expansion to Chicago, having humble beginnings as a food truck serving its wildly popular lobster roll. Katy Gerdes will be comforting travelers with her sinfully delicious donuts at Angel Food Bakery (opened October 2016), second to her downtown Minneapolis storefront. 

“Sometimes when you go to an airport you see a lot of redundancy and availability of souvenir shops, products, and it doesn’t engage you, especially on the retail side,†says Grzechowiak. Flirt Boutique, the women’s intimate appeal store out of St. Paul, and Open Book, selling both children’s and adult books in cooperation with The Loft Literary Center, ensure there’s nothing generic about shopping at the airport. Adventure North takes airport retail to the next level, selling outdoor gear and brand-name apparel and reinforcing the many great outdoorsy activities in Minnesota.


Escape Lounges, a common-use lounge concept from MAG in the United Kingdom, are making their way to U.S. airports, with MSP opening the first one in December 2015 (two more just opened in Oakland, Calif., and Hartford, Conn., in fall 2016). The 5,000-square-foot MSP Escape Lounge, operated by MAG USA, overlooks the airfield and city skyline in Terminal 1 on the Mezzanine Level. “An important part of our Escape Lounge offering is introducing local flavor, whether that be through the art and installations in the lounge—for example, at MSP we teamed up with local photographer Vance Gellert to showcase his work—or whether it’s via our high-quality, locally sourced food and craft beverages,†says Anne Carpenter, marketing and communications manager, MAG USA.

“Technology is at the heart of what we do,†says Carpenter, “so at MSP you’ll find a row of iPads together with charging stations for all devices, so guests can stay connected right up to the final minutes before boarding their flight.†The Escape Lounge also features free Wi-Fi that’s separate from the airport’s network. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included in the price of admission, as well as access to a full bar. 

MSP has 10 conference/meeting rooms (and four private offices for one person) as well as private workstations, accommodating one to 100 people. The Commission Chambers is getting an upgrade to its technology in December 2016, making it more user friendly, and the Chambers and the Lounge now have new carpeting and custom-built cherry tables in the Commissioner’s Lounge. The Conference Center, located in Terminal 1 on the Mezzanine Level, has been updated with new leather chairs.

While there are plenty of hotels surrounding the airport, there isn’t one that connects directly to MSP, at least not yet. Enter a new InterContinental Hotel and Resorts property operated by Graves Hospitality, which is slated to open in June 2018. The 12-story, 300-room hotel will connect to a new security checkpoint in Terminal 1 via skyway. Plans include 25,000 square feet of conference and meeting space.


The largest shopping mall in the U.S. is in the works to become bigger and better than ever. In 2014 the mall commenced its $325 million expansion, which included a JW Marriott hotel, office tower, high-end retailers, new dining options and a new event space. A three-story addition to the mall’s north side opened in November 2015, featuring Culinary on North—an elevated dining area that offers food from restaurants like the popular New York burger joint Shake Shack and the chef-run Piada Italian Street Food. Phase II contains plans for 5.6 million square feet of additional mixeduse space and 8,000 additional parking spaces. 

The addition of Parkview Meeting + Event Center makes for two private event spaces at the mall, the first being the Executive Center on Level 4 East, which consists of four meeting spaces and accommodates up to 125 people reception-style. The 4,000-square-foot Parkview, with capacity for 720 receptionstyle, opened in the southwest corner of Nickelodeon Universe in March 2016 and features floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Nickelodeon Universe. “It has an indoor and ‘outdoor’ space with a little patio that can be set up for a reception,†says Jess Kontz, group sales manager.

Of course, there’s no shortage of group activities in the mall—from Dick’s Last Resort Scavenger Hunt and the Vom Fass Mediterranean dining experience, to the new Crayola Experience and the 29 rides/attractions at Nickelodeon Universe. FlyOver America, a flight simulation ride that gives passengers an aerial view of scenic regions and landmarks in the U.S., is the second FlyOver in the world and the latest attraction to open in the park. Just a hop, skip and a jump from Parkview, it’s a popu – lar add-on during events in the space. Kontz and her team are on hand to customize group experiences based on preference. “You have all the team-building opportunities that you can mix in with your day to really split it up,†she says. “There’s activities out there for really everyone.â€

With the addition of the JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America and Radisson Blu Mall of America, the mall has seen an increase in meeting and event traffic—a win-win situation for both the hotels and the mall. “We are working very closely with Radisson Blu and JW Marriott,†says Kontz. “There have been moments when they have not been able to accommodate a multiday for maybe one day, but we can. … We’re a really good complement because we are the unique out-of-the-box venue with Parkview and our Executive Center, because some people don’t like to be cooped up in a hotel for a full week of a conference.â€

MOA is working on enhancing its guest experience, as well, implementing some tech-based initiatives like a mall-based app and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the entire facility that have been installed. The staff is also working to get more people from around the world to the mall, using its virtual reality tour at trade shows to give people a first-hand sense of the mall’s offerings. The tour allows people to “walk†around the mall, taking them to SEA Life, Nickelodeon Universe, JW Marriott’s Cedar + Stone restaurant, Radisson Blu’s fireplace and finally the mall’s rotunda during a concert. “When you’re talking to someone who has never been to Mall of America before, it can be difficult to convey all of the features of our property,†says Emily Shannon, director of digital. “Using virtual reality, we can better communicate that we have five-star dining, a 7-acre amusement park and miles of storefronts.â€Â 


Opened: Feb. 18, 2016
Location: In the South Loop, between the MSP and MOA
Guest Rooms/Suites: 303 rooms including 14 suites
Meeting/Event Space: 11,000 square feet and more than 4,000 square feet of prefunction space; 17,000-square-foot outdoor park venue
Restaurant: Urbana Craeft Kitchen & Market, headed by Executive Chef Paul Lynch, features food with a “Nordic twist.†One of Lynch’s breakfast specialties are Æbleskivers, Scandinavian pancakes stuffed with spiced apple and served with Minnesota maple syrup. The hotel’s Gardens of Urbana grows goods like tomatoes, beans and Swiss chard for its dishes.
Notable: The hotel is at the doorstep of the Central Station METRO Blue Line light rail stop, which connects easily and quickly to the airport, MOA and downtown Minneapolis.


Opened: June 13, 2016
Location: Six-minute drive from MSP; one-half mile from MOA
Guest Rooms/Suites: 200
Meeting/Event Space: Two meeting rooms total 1,600 square feet, with capacity for up to 60 people
Restaurant: The Garden Grille and Bar serves a full cooked-to-order breakfast and dinner, cocktails, and evening room service. The Pavilion Pantry is open 24 hours and is stocked with salty snacks, sweet treats, cold beverages, and frozen, microwaveable packaged items.
Notable: The hotel’s open design features plenty of natural light, providing top comfort for travelers looking to relax or re-energize for business and/or leisure.

Radisson Blu Mall of America

Opened: March 15, 2013
Location: Directly connected to Mall of America via skyway on the mall’s south side.
Guest Rooms/Suites: 500 rooms in three styles: 29 “Mansion House†suites, 54 “Naturally Cool†Business Class rooms and 417 “Urban†Superior rooms
Meeting/Event Space: More than 26,300 square feet of meeting and event space; the hotel accommodates functions from 10 to 1,000 guests with two ballrooms and 14 flexible breakout spaces.
Restaurant: FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar serves regionally inspired fare by Executive Chef Dinesh Jayawardena and also has a craft cocktail list.
Notable: Radisson Blu MOA was the second of the Blu brand to open in the U.S., after Radisson Blu Hotel Aqua Chicago. The hotel’s fashion-forward aesthetic with modern Minnesota appeal was conceived by Jim Hamilton of Graven Studios and features subtle nods to both MOA and Minnesota’s topography. The hotel is newly pet friendly.


Opened: November 23, 2015
Location: Mall of America’s north side
Guest Rooms/Suites: 342 rooms including 22 suites; rooms feature dimensional artwork and textured fabrics
Meeting/Event Space: 20,000 square feet; 7,000 square feet of prefunction space; 12 meeting rooms; Diamond Ballroom is 16,000 square feet and seats 1,200 guests.
Restaurant: Cedar + Stone, Urban Table is a full-service, farm-to-table concept led by Executive Chef Everton Clarke, who is Jamaica-born, New England-raised, and sous chef Laura Bartholomew. Clarke has relationships with farmers within 200 miles, and uses locally raised produce and dairy products. Menus are seasonal and feature classic steak and seafood dishes with modern twists and coastal influences. The restaurant’s sommelier, Peter Plaehn, is Minnesota’s first Advanced Sommelier, the highest certification in the state. The private dining room can accommodate up to 14 guests and the restaurant seats 190.
Notable: The hotel is the first JW Marriott location in Minnesota and the 25th in the United States.

Crowne Plaza AiRE

Opened: 1981, originally as the Holiday Inn Minneapolis International Airport
Location: East Bloomington, 1 mile east of the Mall of America and 2 miles south of MSP
Guest Rooms/Suites: 430
Meeting/Event Space: 18,000 square feet with capacity for five to 500 people; the spaces and its offerings were renovated and revamped with the input of professional meeting planners.
Restaurant: AiRECraft Grill will open end of January 2017 (replacing Martel’s Restaurant), and will have local craft beers on tap and a wood-burning oven that will be used to make pizza and other wood-fired fare.
Notable: When new owners Kaeding Management Group, LLC took over, not only did the name change, but the entire hotel was renovated with an aviation theme. Artwork is featured throughout the hotel, and each floor represents a different era of aviation, ranging from the beginning with the Wright brothers to the future of aviation. The Northwest Airlines History Centre is also moving into the hotel in January 2017.

Sheraton Bloomington Hotel

Opened: The hotel opened as a Sofitel in 1975 and was transitioned to the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel in October 2013.
Located: At the northeast corner of 494 and Highway 100
Guest Rooms/Suites: 282 total guest rooms, including five Presidential Suites and six Deluxe Suites
Meeting/Event Space: 17,000 square feet of meeting space with the capacity to host up to 500 reception-style; the three new state-of-the-art meeting rooms have touch-screen technology, screen sharing and the latest HD technology. Lela is the exclusive hotel caterer.
Restaurant: Opened in June 2015, Lela offers steak, crudo and pasta with a “guest-centric†focus. Executive Chef Stewart Woodman stepped into the kitchen in May 2016 and recently helped revamp the menu. The private dining room can seat 34 and accommodate 50 reception-style. Partial and full buyouts of up to 200 are available.
Notable: The hotel’s $16 million all-encompassing renovation included modernization of all guest rooms, a full lobby expansion, the addition of Lela, renovated ballroom and junior ballrooms, and the addition of a fitness center, front drive/porte-cochère and three meeting rooms.


Opened: Jan. 24, 2008
Location: Seven miles from MSP and MOA, on the corner of France Avenue and Highway 494
Guest Rooms/Suites: 256
Meeting/Event Space: Over 9,000 square feet, which includes the newly remodeled American Ballroom that can accommodate up to 400 guests. The open foyer and seasonal outdoor patio space can also be used for pre-reception cocktail hour. There are three Executive Boardrooms and two meeting rooms with natural light, ideal for smaller functions.
Restaurant: Bloomington ChopHouse Restaurant has been voted best steakhouse by Sun Times for five consecutive years. The premier traditional steakhouse serves tender steaks and fresh seafood. Chef Jacob Brodd and Chef Erik Salo have been with the hotel since it first opened and put on special culinary events.
Notable: The hotel completed a $2 million renovation in January 2016, with transformations to the lobby area and entrance, food and beverage outlets, Olive Bar & Lounge, meeting space and HHonor Executive Lounge.