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No Challenge—or Sweep—is Too Big for the Mall of America

Author: Marie Elium
Published: February 23rd, 2011

The numbers alone are intimidating. Fifty-seven acres. Four million square feet of parking decks. Almost four miles of road surfaces. And all of this is in snowy Minnesota, to boot. Welcome to the Mall of America.

Street sweepers, property managers and others responsible for commercial pavement know that keeping their lots and sidewalks clear of trash and snow is a big job. At the famous Mall of America, the job is a super-sized one: think of your typical mall on steroids. Lots and lots of steroids.

The man responsible for the landscaping, inside and out, as well as for the streets, sidewalks, seven-story parking decks and other exterior maintenance is Lydell L. Newby, II. If ever someone seemed suited for an oversized job, it would be Newby. He comes with an oversized personality that relishes the challenges and opportunities his unique job entails.

Officially, Newby is Manager of Environmental Services at the Bloomington, Minnesota mall. He is responsible for all of the mall’s recycling operations and says that between fifty-five and sixty percent of its waste is recycled. He has a staff of twelve working on exterior maintenance, including a horticulturist who is responsible for maintaining the almost nine acres of grass and native Minnesota plants and wildflowers that surround the mall building, not to mention the plantings inside. The property has four to five hundred trees and numerous plantings both inside and out of the monster-sized mall. All of the outdoor plants are suited to ensure they can survive amidst the inevitable salt spray from snow removal, as well as the extremely cold and long northern winters. The plants also must survive traffic pollution, runoff and other challenges that result from growing on the site of a mega-mall.

Newby said, “Unlike most other malls and commercial properties, the Mall of America is large enough to perform all of its own maintenance.” Rarely are outsiders hired to help out. The exception would be when an extraordinary amount of heavy snow falls, like eight or nine inches. That is when his crew needs help moving snow on the open upper decks of the parking areas. The outside contractors use Bobcat bulldozers to help Newby’s workers shove the snow into a unique “chute” system that allows the snow to slide down to the ground level of the decks where it can be hauled away. The snow goes to a property owned by the mall, located right across the street.

To keep the mall decks and roadways clean, Newby uses a regenerative air sweeper from Tymco, the Model 210, which easily skims below the 7-foot, 2-inch to 7-foot, 3-inch height of the deck ceilings. Newby only uses a stainless steel hopper on his machine because of the extraordinary amount of highly corrosive salt that the sweeper collects.

“That sweeper operates every night of the week,” Newby said. “We also have a handful of backpack blowers and backpack vacuums. It is very basic. Less is more. You give the team members a garbage bag and let them go. That’s what our second shift does—they empty garbage cans.”

The Tymco Model 210 is a workhorse at the Mall of America. “Our sweeper truck does thirty-five to forty miles a night sweeping over our fifty-eight acres of property,” Newby said. “Our last sweeper truck we had for eight years, and it had one hundred thousand miles on it.”

The mall uses one hundred percent magnesium treated road salt to spread over road and deck surfaces during the winter. Sand is not an option for Newby or for the Mall of America, “It’s a horrible nuisance,” he explained. “Our speed ramps are at twenty-five degree angles, and the sand collects there and it is slippery. Someone could easily slide off and hit a concrete barrier. It tracks everywhere, it clogs drains, it clogs sewers—it clogs everything.”

Newby, 52, has worked at the Mall of America for twenty years. Most of his crew have been with him for fifteen years or longer. He said he surrounds himself with people who are good at their jobs. The formula is a simple one: they are good at what they do and that makes his job much easier.

When you work at the second largest mall in the United States (only the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania is larger), the challenges are big, but they are familiar to anyone who has had to keep a parking lot free of snow or repaired signs at a strip mall or dealt with trash in parking decks.

Newby agrees that the similarities between what he does and other mall managers do are closer than most people would imagine, “Only, we get forty-three million visitors a year. It is on a much more monumental level.”

The Mall of America is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., leaving little time for Newby’s crew to get in and to do its work, “The people who work here at the Mall of America, once they get to the mall and start on the property they clean it and they leave to go on to other jobs on the property,” he explained.

The owners of the Mall of America, the Triple Five Group, have signed a letter of intent to develop a mall at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Newby said he would be eager to participate in any way he can. His experience in Minnesota has been a great one. “I can’t think of something I don’t like about my job. My favorite part is the team members who have worked with me all these years because it is not just about the building,” Newby said, “The Mall of America is a wonderful place. It is like a living, breathing entity. It’s more than a job.”

Newby said people ask him what he does. He says he works at a mall. They invariably ask him, “Which store?”

“We’ve had everyone come here over the years, from Shania Twain to Ozzie Osbourne, from John Glenn to Sarah Palin. We have five hundred twenty stores and fifty restaurants and night clubs. I work for all for all of them. Sometimes I stand in the rotunda and look up and think, “Wow.”’