The creators of a new, $15 million "neighborhood" at the Minnesota State Fair say the coming of the West End Market will give fairgoers a welcoming new front door that references state history through its attractions and architecture.

As crews from McGough Construction worked this week to put the finishing touches on the 22.5-acre area in time for the fair's Aug. 21 opening day, architect Brian Tempas and designer Andrew Tisue of the Cuningham Group hosted a hard-hat tour to explain the design vision behind the biggest expansion of the fair since the 1930s.

"The whole design is sort of predicated on the idea of this being a 'Minnesota space,' " Tempas said. "We looked at the history and feel of the Warehouse District in north Minneapolis to reference the tectonics and materials, such as steel, steel connectors and wood beams. There are some shapes that are pretty unique to this place … kind of a 21st century interpretation of what can happen at a fair."

The new space is built on what used to be Heritage Square, a collection of mostly nondescript vendor booths that were originally constructed in 1964 as the Young America teen center and were only meant to be temporary. Outside of a 150-year-old log cabin, a windmill, the old North St. Paul train depot and the Royal American Shows train cars, nothing much remains of the former exhibit.

In its place are two restaurants — Lulu's Public House and the Blue Barn — an amphitheater, seven vendor pavilions, a new set of restrooms and the West End Market's centerpiece, the Minnesota State Fair History and Heritage Center, the fair's first year-round public building.

Each has been designed to play off the others architecturally to create a distinct "neighborhood" within the sprawling fairgrounds and to celebrate "localness," Tempas said.

It starts with the Heritage Center, which features a twisting roof design that addresses both the circular KSTP Heritage Plaza within the West End Market as well as another key feature of the upgrades — a new transit hub plaza just to the northeast of the new area that will serve as the main entrance for the estimated 700,000 yearly visitors who arrive by bus.

The tallest of the new structures, the Heritage Center, will house the fair's extensive collection of artifacts and an impressive educational display curated by the Minnesota Historical Society. In addition to serving as the official welcoming point for visitors, it will also be open year-round with plans for it to host non-fair functions such as wedding receptions and corporate events.

"The interior has been designed to serve as a sort of canvas for their displays and artifacts to be showcased," Tisue said. "We positioned it here as a 'hinge' for all of the thousands of people arriving at the Fair."

Its distinctive roof line is shared by the series of vendor pavilions, which feature "butterfly roofs" that also serve to funnel rainwater into the West End Market's system of rain gardens. They are designed to not only filter contaminants from the runoff, but to provide green space, breaking up the expanse of concrete that replaces the hot asphalt that once covered Heritage Square.

The two new restaurants also feature Minnesota-centric materials, such as the reclaimed wood of Lulu's Public House and the corrugated steel siding of the Blue Barn.

Next to the new Hugh & Margaret Schilling Amphitheater will be a new wooden structure run by August Schell Brewing Co. that will serve as an outdoor beer taproom and also features a sloped roof.

"We were very conscious of trying not to upstage the people who are going to bring in their stuff," he said. "They're going to supply a lot of color, signage and lighting, and we didn't want to detract from that. We just wanted to provide a backdrop so they can add all the energy."

Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.