After a three-year hiatus, the Taste of Minnesota will return to St. Paul’s Harriet Island Park next summer, under new ownership but using the same team that ran it successfully before the July 4th festival plunged into bankruptcy in 2010.
Making the announcement Thursday was Linda Maddox, widow of co-founder Ron Maddox and manager of Taste before it was purchased by International Event Management in 2009.
That firm had promised an upgrade in food and band lineups, but was forced to bow out after two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.
The new owner is 10K Lakes Inc., a group of metro-area investors interested in local projects and events. Members of the group approached Maddox to gauge her interest.
“We’re looking forward to the work ahead of us,” said 10K Lakes spokesman John Haynes, an actor and director with Actors Theater of Minnesota. The task will be easier, he said, since Maddox’s team will be involved and “you don’t need to come in and re-invent the wheel.”
Maddox, who will be general manager of the 2014 festival set for July 3-6, said she was excited about working on the festival again and that she had “all of Ron’s team back” to focus on its tried-and-true formula: food, family fun, music and fireworks.
Moreover, she said, Taste once again will have free admission for at least part of the day, with a minimal charge at other times. Under the previous owners, admission fees of $10 to $30 were charged — one reason (along with weather) for poor attendance that helped lead to the festival’s demise.
Before that, the festival was one of the Twin Cities’ most popular summer events and typically drew more than 200,000 annually, both at the State Capitol grounds and then Harriet Island, where it was moved in 2003. At one time it was considered the state’s biggest free festival.
“One gift that Ron gave was a festival for the metro area that was free, so no one was excluded,” said Linda Maddox, who helped run the show from 1996 to 2008.
“I can just see Ron Maddox in his golf cart, with his bat and a big smile, saying, ‘Well done!’ ” said City Council Member Dave Thune, who represents the Harriet Island area.
Ron Maddox and Dick Broeker started Taste in 1983, modeling it after a Chicago food and music festival to provide an attraction for families who didn’t have a cabin to go to for July 4th. The festival was so popular that it tied up holiday traffic in St. Paul, even when a string of assaults near the Capitol raised concerns.
The next year Maddox patrolled the grounds in a golf cart, a Louisville Slugger at his side in case of troublemakers.
The festival first was run by the Downtown Council, then a private company and later by the Capital City Partnership. In 2009, it was purchased by International Event Management with Maddox’s blessing. He died in 2010 of complications from a stroke.
City officials last month approved a new business plan for the festival at Harriet Island, the riverfront park across the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul.