The Great Minnesota Get-Together is planning its next great act.
Minnesota State Fair officials would like to build an amphitheater to showcase performance arts or a climate-controlled venue that would promote the future of agriculture and could host major traveling exhibits.
Nothing is imminent, said State Fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette, but over the weekend the fair's governing board shared its dreams for a new attraction and a spiffed-up entrance on the north end of the fairgrounds during its annual meeting.
On Tuesday, officials will meet with the Cuningham Group to look at various diagrams and layouts for possible improvements and venue sizes, said Brian Tempas of the Minneapolis-based architectural firm that designed the fair's last big expansion, the West End Market and transit hub that opened in 2014. That year the fair set a new attendance record with more than 1.82 million visitors during its 12-day run; in 2015 the fairgrounds hosted 1.78 million guests.
"We're in the dreaming and conception stage," Schuette said. "We will do it if we can financially. Right now it's too early to say. It's kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking at this point."
Turning the dream into reality would likely take until 2017 and require a fundraising campaign. The fair, a self-supporting entity that receives no taxpayer dollars, had one of the most financially successful years in its long history in 2015. Some of the profit could be steered toward a new attraction, Schuette said.
Fair officials have yet to put a price tag on any improvements.
The north end of the fairgrounds has undergone a transformation over the past 20 years. It was once known as Machinery Hill, and new attractions have popped up as the number of farm implements on display declined. In recent years the enormously popular Pet Center opened and the Giant Sing Along and lumberjack shows have drawn crowds to the area just inside the north gate at Hoyt and Snelling avenues. The Sky Glider arrived in 2001. But the area has room for another big attraction and could meet one of the fair's biggest needs: Another building that can be used year-round on blistering hot summer days and frigid January days like Monday.
Just three buildings on the 320-acre campus are equipped with heating and cooling systems. A climate-controlled building would allow the fair to host exhibits from organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, something that has long been on the fair's wish list.
Tempas said a lot of ideas are on the table, including an amphitheater to showcase dance, theater and comedy shows to augment musical performances elsewhere on the fairgrounds. A redesigned entrance and plaza to stitch things together is also being considered.
"Let's give them some wow," Tempas said of the ideas being floated.
While everything is preliminary, any improvements will be far less than the $15 million spent on the West End Market and transit hub. The open-air area featuring a neighborhood-like setting with entertainment, specialty shops, food and beverage establishments replaced Heritage Square.
A revamped north end with another marquee "could help draw crowds from the heart of the fairgrounds to the north end. We need to disperse the crowds on record-breaking days," Schuette said.