For a bunch of folks who are supposed to be in harness together, it might have seemed a bit unneighborly recently when Canterbury Park announced that it’s about to launch a $2.5 million events center on its grounds in Shakopee.
After all, isn’t Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in the same business, just a few minutes down the road?
But the leaders at Mystic say they were neither surprised nor chagrined.
“Canterbury Park and the SMSC [Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community] work closely together, and we were aware of this project,” said Edward Stevenson, president and CEO of the SMSC Gaming Enterprise.
“Mystic Lake Casino Hotel has 67,000 square feet of meeting space, but it does not have a separate events building. The Mystic Lake Casino Hotel meeting space is generally used for conferences, large meetings, weddings and other special events. It is not typically used for expos and craft fairs.”
The horse track is a draw for the whole area in an era when horse racing is in trouble across much of the nation. Amid the cascade of Kentucky Derby coverage this year, it emerged that nationally the number of thoroughbred races is down by 19 percent from a decade ago and the wagering handle is down much more than that: by 30 percent, to $11 billion.
Canterbury has obtained help in a variety of ways, notably by partnering with Mystic Lake rather than seeking to compete directly by adding a “racino” with slot machines.
The track will now install a 30,000-square-foot permanent structure that expands its event space to more than 100,000 square feet, making it “the fourth-largest exhibit space in the Twin Cities,” its announcement said.
The new building is designed to have the same look as the 1985-vintage track in general, and it features 24,000 square feet of unobstructed assembly space along with 6,000 square feet devoted to an entry, offices, restrooms and storage.
Up until now, there’s been a tent. Special events manager Mary Pat Monson described the new structure as “a year-round facility that is completely climate controlled. We will attract many new shows and lure back shows that relocated because of the limitations of the old structure.”
Angie Whitcomb, president of the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said it’s a big upgrade.
“The tent is not quite as rustic as it’s sometimes made to sound,” she said, “but an enclosed, heated, indoor, true conference center with concrete floors rather than a pavement parking lot — this just obviously is an improvement.
“We were lacking for this type of space. Mystic has a beautiful conference center, not exhibit space. They are top-of-the-line everything, but for something on a smaller scale, for expos and things, that we were lacking in and it’s very exciting news.”
Stevenson added that the addition should be seen in the context of a move to collectively brand and market the wider area, meaning the tribe and its facilities, Canterbury, the cities of Prior Lake and Shakopee, as well as Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival.
“More details about that effort will be announced in late May,” he said. “Everyone benefits when the number of visitors to the area increases.”
The push also coincides with some progress on the transportation front. There’s freer-flowing traffic on Hwy. 169 now that stoplights at Interstate 494 are gone, new lane space on Hwy. 101 across the river out of Shakopee starting next year and other aids to speedy movement.
Construction at Canterbury is to start this month and be complete by early September.