There’s something about the Mall of America that keeps drawing Dave Haselman back.
Maybe it’s the fact that Haselman, the mall’s general manager of operations, can do what he calls “last-second” Christmas shopping – or maybe it’s the day-to-day challenges of running the nation’s largest, fully enclosed retail and entertainment complex.
Whatever it is, this 20-plus-year facilities management industry veteran has spent the better part of a decade working in the Bloomington, MN-based, Simon Property Group Inc.-managed mall in one capacity or another. “The Mall of America on any given day is the third largest city in Minnesota,” Haselman says. “You basically have all the functions of a city within the facility, and you have to manage all the internal functions successfully so that the guests have the best possible visit while they are here.”
The mall encompasses 4.2 million square feet, including 2.6 million feet of retail space and more than 525 stores. It also has 50 restaurants, eight nightclubs, and a 14-screen Cineplex. But that’s not all.
At the center of the mall lies Camp Snoopy, a seven-acre, enclosed amusement park that includes two roller coasters and a log flume ride, among other attractions. The mall also houses Underwater Adventures, a 1.2 million-gallon, walk-through aquarium; a high school; a college; and a transit station handling more than 500 buses a day. Up to 13,000 employees work in the mall.
Haselman started at the Mall of America before the facility’s grand opening in 1992 as a systems supervisor, where he oversaw the building automation and life safety systems. “Pursuing and landing a job at the Mall of America before the project opened is one of the highlights of my career,” he says.
Haselman then absorbed responsibility for the mall’s IS department in 1994 and added the Exterior Maintenance and Electrical departments to his supervision in 1995.
In 1997, he decided to try something different. He resigned and took a facility manager position with Northwest Airlines, where he managed facilities in Minneapolis and Duluth, MN, as well as assisting with facilities in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Jersey, and Florida.
It seems, however, that the lure of the mall was too much for him. In 1999, the mall’s general manager announced his retirement and Simon officials recruited Haselman for the position. He returned to the mall shortly thereafter and worked with the retiring general manager for a year, training to take over the helm. He became general manager in 2000.
Haselman says the constant variety of tasks each day at the Mall of America is the favorite part of his job. “One day you are helping coordinate the filming of the Today show, and the next you are working at minimizing the impact of road construction on your guests,” he says. But, as with any job, it’s not all the proverbial bed of roses. Paperwork is his waterloo.
“I’m not one who can stay behind a desk for long periods of time,” Haselman admits. “Unfortunately the process of budgeting, tracking, and planning will keep me behind the desk too long at times.”
As Haselman has learned, operating one of the highest-profile shopping and entertainment complexes in the world has its challenges. “Certainly the media scrutiny is challenging at times,” he says. “If the lights go out in some other facility, it usually goes unnoticed,” he says. “If the lights go out at the Mall of America, it’s front-page news. The same goes for traffic problems, construction snafus, and security issues.”
Security is “always a focus” at the mall, Haselman points out. “Since 9/11, the security issues have taken on a new dimension. We believe we have the best private security force in the nation, but we can never relax or become complacent,” he says. “We constantly look for new techniques and training that will keep our guests and tenants as safe as possible.”
That’s a challenge alone when you consider the amount of people who pass in and out of the many mall entrances every day, including up to 60 major celebrities who stage events at the mall each year, drawing as many as 20,000 spectators per event. Haselman cites the mall’s 1999 *NSYNC concert as an example. The show took place during the boy band’s height of popularity and drew in an “enormous crowd of mostly screaming, crying adolescent girls.”
“It took the entire staff, coordinated by our security manager – a sergeant major in the Marine Corps who oversaw the security detail at Camp David through two presidents – to effectively and safely control the crowd,” Haselman says.
But a day in the life at the Mall of America management office is more than security and paperwork. It also focuses on maintaining the mall’s reputation of being fresh and new, Haselman says.
“Whether it is new and exciting events, new stores, or new attractions, all departments have to work together to help maintain the excitement our guests have become accustomed to,” he points out.
This particularly holds true as the mall undergoes its Phase II expansion. While still in the planning stages, Mall of America’s Phase II concepts will display a lifestyle-oriented, progressive, and innovative personality that will complement the existing shops and attractions at Mall of America. The Phase II mixed-use complex is zoned for up to 5.7 million square feet of new development and will be built on 42 acres of adjacent property to the north of Mall of America on the old site of the Met Center. A bridge will also be constructed to link Phase I and Phase II.
While most of the impact of the expansion planning falls onto the development department in Simon’s Indianapolis-based home office, Haselman and his staff will assist with estimating costs of common area maintenance, placement of utilities and amenities, and access to the property.
Robin Suttell (firstname.lastname@example.org), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.