Nothing is certain yet, but it's looking more promising that the Minnesota State Fair will be back in 2021 after taking a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plans for "The Great Minnesota Get-Together" are moving forward, said fair general manager Jerry Hammer. But exactly what this year's rendition will look like, should it go on, hinges on how many Minnesotans get vaccinated and the state of the virus and rules governing crowd sizes that are in effect when summer rolls around.
With COVID-19 cases dropping and more people getting vaccinations, "there is a positive trajectory," Hammer said Wednesday. "What is going on is very encouraging."
On Wednesday, the state reported more than 770,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state also reported nine new deaths from COVID-19 complications.
The fair typically draws about 2 million people a year to its sprawling extravaganza of carnival rides, exhibits, people-watching and greasy food. This year's fair, scheduled for Aug. 26 to Sept. 6, could be the shoulder-to-shoulder event of years past, or could have restricted attendance.
And it's still possible that, like last year, it won't happen at all.
What form the fair ultimately takes will depend, in part, on what happens with other large outdoor events such as concerts, fairs in other states and Twins games, if spectators are allowed in.
"There are a lot of what-ifs," Hammer said.
"We are improvising, just like some of the most beautiful music ever played has been improvised."
Even Gov. Tim Walz is hopeful the fair will be back on.
"I have said it. I want to be there and eat that corn dog. And yes, they are corn dogs," he said during a Tuesday news conference at Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis. "When you hit these milestones these are the types of activities that can come back."
Fair officials expect to have a full complement of food vendors and ride operators who have expressed interest in returning.
Entertainers are also eager to return, Hammer said.
Last year the fair held two Food Parades over five weekends, and each sold out. It also offered an At-Home Edition on the fair's website and social media channels.
But none of that helped the bottom line much — the fair reported an operating loss of $16.2 million. The fair does not receive any state funding.
"If you look back in our history, the fair has been resilient," said Hammer, noting years such as 1945 and 1946 when the event was canceled. "We can survive a year with no fair."
But Hammer is desperately hoping there won't be a repeat this year.
"Things are pointing in the right direction," he said. "We expect some type of event this year."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768