2014 State Fair offers new ways to meet, eat, retreat

Published 10:01 am Thursday, August 21, 2014

By Tim Nelson

MPR, 90.1

FALCON HEIGHTS — The food stands have their finishing touches.

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The kegs are rolled off the beer trucks and into the coolers.

The rides are put together.

And fresh stripes have been spray-painted onto the parking lots.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, the gates will open for a tradition dating back almost 160 years. About 1.7 million people are expected to visit Falcon Heights between Thursday and Labor Day. They will find some of the biggest changes to the fairgrounds in nearly a century.

The facelift includes a $17.5 million upgrade to the west end of the fair, two permanent restaurants and a brand-new gateway to the fairgrounds.

Jerry Hammer, the State Fair’s general manager, describes the new West End Gate as “a super gate.”

“It’s big,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s spacious. There’s a lot of room inside for people. There’s a plaza, a big plaza … you can meet people there, and then either head down in the west end or go through the old streetcar arch down into the fairgrounds.”

Typically, about half the people who come to the fair take mass transit, and fair officials expect that about a third of all fairgoers will enter through the new gate, adjacent to the fair’s new transit hub.

Metro Transit says there’s also a new — albeit indirect — option to get to the fair that uses the Green Line. Trains will drop off riders at Snelling and University about every 10 minutes, according to Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. He said the No. 84 bus will carry riders from the light rail stop to the fairgrounds.

Gone from the fairgrounds is the old Heritage Square, a separate area with a small stage and a few dozen vendors. The area started out as the Teen Fair in the mid ’60s and morphed into an Early American-themed attraction for the Bicentennial.

Now, two new restaurants, an amphitheater, restrooms, a museum and a flea-market-like commercial plaza have sprung up in its place, just north of the Mighty Midway.