The Minnesota State Fair is giving its north end a major makeover.
Fair officials unveiled the plans Sunday morning at their annual meeting in Bloomington.
It's the biggest project at the fair since the West End Market opened in 2014, and will make for a similar update at the entry near the fair's water tower on Snelling Avenue in Falcon Heights.
"The way the fair is growing physically as well as in attendance, we need to create more. We have to add to the fair," the fair's general manager, Jerry Hammer, told MPR News. "The fairgrounds are defined by these very distinct neighborhoods, the architecture and the activity, and so we're building a new one using space on the north end that hadn't been realized all that well."
The biggest single element will be a new 12,000-square-foot, year-round, climate-controlled exhibit hall, built where the dog shows used to be east of the former Pet Center. The new building will sit between The Hangar food and beer hall — which opened last year at the fair — and Snelling Avenue.
The $16 million project will also add a new plaza on the north entrance, and rows of pavilions for food, exhibitors and other attractions. It will be ready when the gates open for the 2019 fair on Aug. 22.
Brian Tempas, a partner with Cuningham Group, the architectural firm that designed it — as well as the West End Market — says it will evoke the area's history as the fair's Machinery Hill.
"You'll see still agricultural forms, in a sense, with shed roofs. Metal roofs is kind of a common thing, and in the gallery you'll see some wood, so you'll see those tactile surfaces that you can touch and feel and understand how it went together," Tempas said.
The site used to be covered with asphalt and turf, with a succession of temporary uses, and it's been ripe for a remake, fair officials said. Another Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar location, a new Pet Pavilion and a new restroom facility were all added nearby in the past several years to help utilize the area more fully and accommodate record crowds. The fair had both it biggest single day and its highest overall attendance in 2018, topping 2 million for the first time.
"They're seeing a lot more people come in that gate, Gate 2 up there. It's either the second or third most popular gate, so they wanted to expand with something new," Tempas said.
The project is actually already under construction. Hammer, the general manager, said that a mild winter had given crews a jump on the footings and structural steel, and the outlines of the new exhibit hall are already visible from the fair's north parking lot. It will have a large exhibit space and an attached gallery. It'll be climate-controlled and ready for everything from conferences to weddings year-round, Hammer said.
Renee Alexander, the fair's deputy general manager, says during the fair it's likely to host a variety of traveling exhibits that the fair hasn't been able to accommodate previously — although she's not giving details yet.
"We're looking for something that will be new and different every year, so it'll be a new exhibit annually. We're looking for something that will have broad appeal, family friendly and interactive," Alexander said. "Free of charge, museum quality exhibits."
The fair is a state-chartered agency, but isn't subsidized by the state. Admissions, a share of sales and other revenue will pay for the new project.
Fair officials also announced Sunday that admission prices will rise $1 for the 2019 fair, set to take place from Aug. 22 through Sept. 2. The new prices will take effect on Feb. 2; pre-fair discount tickets at the current price are available through Feb. 1.
The new regular adult admission price for the fair will be $15. Officials said the fair last raised ticket prices two years ago.