When the Minnesota State Fair opens in August 2014, traffic congestion should improve on both Como and Larpenteur avenues, if the fair’s new transit hub and gate on the northwest side of the fairgrounds works as planned, says Jerry Hammer, the fair’s general manager.
The new entrance’s effect on traffic on Cleveland and Commonwealth avenues near the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus is an unknown.
In August, the fair announced its plans to build the $10 million hub and exhibit area to the west of the Grandstand at the site of the nearly 50-year-old Heritage Square, home to the State Fair History Museum, the Minnesota Newspaper Museum, and unique vendors such as a blacksmith and a taxidermist. The project will include a new stage and vendor area and a new gate and transit station that will accommodate buses coming off of the University of Minnesota Transitway.
The small gate on Commonwealth used mostly by pedestrians will be closed and walkers coming from the St. Anthony Park neighborhood will be able enter the fairgrounds through the new gate.
The site for the new entrance backs up to one of the State Fair parking lots, which is shared with the University of Minnesota when the fair is not in session. Some of the parking there will be removed to accommodate buses that will be funneled to the hub through the transitway, which connects the U’s Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses and runs along the west side of the fairgrounds.
The project will include a new fence line that will place the parking lots on the north and west sides of the grandstand outside the fair’s gate.
“This will have a tremendously positive impact on traffic all around the fairgrounds,” Hammer said. “Right now when cars come into the gate at Hoyt and Snelling or on Larpenteur, they are doing two transactions: admission tickets and parking. The lots that we have south of Como fill much easier because they are outside the gate. All you have to do is buy a parking ticket and that’s it.”
Making just one transaction when you pull into a lot will move the lines of cars more quickly, he said.
At press time, Hammer could not say whether cars would be able to access the new gate from Commonwealth. “Details aren’t worked out yet,” he said, but he didn’t expect the fair would want to mix car traffic with the bus traffic coming off the transitway next to Commonwealth.
The majority of car traffic comes into the fair at entrances on Larpenteur on the north side of the grounds and Hoyt Avenue on the east side of the grounds,
and that won’t change, he said. Heritage Square, originally called Teen Fair, opened in 1964 and had a separate entrance from the State Fair. Teen Fair, which went through a number of name changes over its 12 years—Teen Age Fair, Young America Center, Youth Expo—had a dance floor and held fashion and car shows. In 1975, the area was renamed Heritage Square in time for the
1976 U.S. Bicentennial. “Everyone was wearing
‘Little House on the Prairie’ clothes,” Hammer said, “and that changed big time, which it should have.”
The stage on the western edge of the square was destroyed 25 years ago when a roof collapsed. The fair has been bringing in a temporary stage each year for the venue’s daily performances. The new facility will include a permanent stage and continue to offer the same type of music—Americana, old- time and bluegrass, polka, and fiddle and guitar contests—that has been performed in the square over the last few years.
“[Heritage Square] was never meant to be permanent,” Hammer said. “The idea is that it would be around a little while—five or 10 years. Duct tape and paint are holding it together.”
The renovations will be similar to the 2007 remake of International Bazaar on Judson Avenue, Hammer said. Built of wood in 1970 and named the Mexican Village, the area was renamed in 1984 and expanded and rebuilt in 2007 with a new stage, restrooms, and room for 120 concession and exhibit spaces.
One exhibitor that won’t return to the Heritage Square site is the Minnesota Newspaper Museum, a working 1930s-era newspaper office that prints a daily edition of the Maynard News during the fair. The museum, established in 1987, used a vintage Linotype printer and a Babcock printing press to publish the paper, which is named after the small-town Minnesota newspaper where most of the equipment came from.
Costs to move the brick building to another site are too prohibitive for the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation, which runs the museum, but the fair is working with the foundation to relocate the museum on the fairgrounds, Hammer said.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help get that done,” Hammer said. “We have some buildings that might work.”
Hammer expects many of the Heritage Square vendors to return to the area next year. “It’s my hope that they will all return,” he said. All vendors have to re-apply to the fair each year. “Nobody here has space for more than one year at a time,” he said.
As far as rental rates increasing in the new venue, Hammer said rates for exhibit areas are set annually. “If they change, they change throughout the fairgrounds,” he said.
The new venue—which has yet to be named—will be nice, Hammer said. “We won’t let anybody down. The music there won’t change. It will just be a nice, new facility.”