Taste of Minnesota, the July 4th party that once drew hundreds of thousands of people to St. Paul for food and music, will come to Minneapolis this summer after a hiatus of seven years.
Mayor Jacob Frey announced Thursday in his State of the City address that the festival will be held July 2-3. Downtown Minneapolis has been eyed as a potential location for months.
Buzz about a potential post-pandemic resurrection of Taste has been brewing for months, as civic leaders and elected officials angled for the event behind the scenes and occasionally in public.
A bill was introduced in the Legislature to allocate $1,846,500 for a one-time grant to the Minneapolis Downtown Council to pay for buildout, permits, waste disposal, staff, security, equipment, signage and insurance for the Taste of Minnesota.
"From our perspective, we are excited about the prospect of any events coming to Minneapolis, especially ones that are free and open to the public," said Mark Remme, spokesman for the Downtown Council, last month.
While the Downtown Council is behind the bill that would pay for Taste, a different group will own and operate the event, Remme said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Michael Rainville, who represents part of downtown, notified Park Board commissioners at their March 1 meeting that the Taste of Minnesota would be coming to Nicollet Mall, potentially around the time of the Park Board's annual fireworks show. Pledging the cooperation of the city, Rainville suggested the city and Park Board blend their July 4th activities to reanimate the riverfront.
The Park Board has not held its traditional "Red, White and Boom" fireworks show over the Mississippi River since before the COVID-19 pandemic, opting instead for scattered July 4th gatherings at parks across the city.
Last Independence Day, a mass shooting injured seven people at a large gathering at Boom Island Park. Later that night, young people drag-racing through downtown launched fireworks toward high-rises and passersby.
As a result of that chaos, the Park Board is cautiously considering whether to reinstate fireworks this year. Some commissioners believe it's time to return to tradition, while others speculate that withholding the official public fireworks production in recent years was what led people to shoot off rogue fireworks of their own in neighborhoods all summer long.
Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto was daunted at the idea of his department of 50 officers providing security for tens of thousands of people during a fireworks show if Taste of Minnesota were to happen at the same time.
"What that has really signaled to me is that the city will have their hands full downtown and probably not be in a position to provide us much support or resources supporting a fireworks event," he said.
On the other hand, if organizers pull off Taste of Minnesota this year it might help reverse the fun deficit left in the wake of several other canceled summer festivals, including the Basilica Block Party, Rock the Garden and Twin Cities Summer Jam.
The Taste of Minnesota's many incarnations date back four decades, when it lived almost entirely on the east side of the Mississippi River.
The first event was held in 1983 on the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul. Offering free admission for all, it would eventually become Minnesota's second-largest festival, behind the State Fair. It moved to Harriet Island in 2003.
Taste was long associated with its co-founder, Ron Maddox, a pugnacious former bar owner, St. Paul City Council member and defender of the city, who was renowned for patrolling the festival grounds with a bat emblazoned with the words "You agree with me, don't you?"
Things began to fall apart for Taste in the late 2000s. In a matter of years, the event began losing money, Maddox died and new owners filed for bankruptcy.
In 2014, Maddox's widow Linda revived the event with some of its original founders, but flooding forced the event to leave St. Paul. It was held in Waconia in 2014 and 2015, but hasn't been staged since.