Renaissance Festival operators, on a quest to relocate before its longtime Shakopee lease expires in two years, say they have found the annual event’s likely new home.
Mid-America Festivals Inc., the festival’s management company, says it expects to move down the road to a 150-acre parcel near the Scott County Fairgrounds in Jordan for the medieval show’s 50th season in 2020.
“It’s such a natural evolution to go up or down the highway and restart,” said Jim Peterson, Mid-America Festivals president. “If you have a farmland with woods, you can have a Renaissance Festival.”
Organizers had originally planned to decamp last summer, but a three-year lease extension with landlord Malkerson Sales, Inc., provided some short-term certainty for vendors. In recent years, Malkerson’s family gravel mining operation has gnawed closer to the festival grounds in Shakopee in search of limestone and silica sand, which is used for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.” More precious aggregate lies beneath the Renaissance Festival’s existing 16th century village.
Festival organizers say the time has come for them to find a more permanent home. Mid-America, which also runs similar Renaissance festivals in Michigan, Kansas City and St. Louis, is looking at two other sites — one along Interstate 35 in Scott County and another in Carver County. Over the last six months, the company has purchased four properties just north of Hwy. 169 in Jordan that creates a large enough footprint for the relocated festival.
The Jordan site would provide more room for parking and greater freedom to make long-term infrastructure decisions, officials said.
“Now it’s all our responsibility,” said Bo Beller, Mid-America’s director of business and legal affairs. “We can design it exactly the way we want to.”
Minnesota’s festival, one of the country’s largest, drew nearly 300,000 people last year seeking the thrill of jousting, artisans and thematic weekends. This year’s seven-week festival runs on weekends through Oct. 1.
Organizers said keeping the festivities in Scott County was important to maintaining the community relationships they’ve built over the last four decades. Other sites closer to the Twin Cities have emerged, but none were seriously considered. “This is our home,” Beller said.
Yet, even with several years notice, the moving process will be a formidable task.
The company will help vendors make the transition on a shop-by-shop basis, but some older booths from the 1970s and 1980s will not be structurally sound enough to make the trek. Mac’s Pub, a stone building built by hand several decades ago, may be one left behind.
“There’s just no way to move it. It would literally fall over,” said Carr Hagerman, who manages several hundred performers at the festival.
Vendors build and own their own booths, typically costing $10,000 to $50,000. In the last decade, many were built as theatrical pieces with a possible move in mind.
Hagerman, a festival regular who plays the infamous Rat Catcher, said he’s looking forward to the change. For one thing, there’s sure to be less dust at the new location. But overall, he tells his cast that the opportunities for creativity outweigh the challenges.
Mid-America also operates the annual Trail of Terror Halloween event at the same Shakopee site, which is expected to move as well. Before plans are executed, the company must conduct a traffic study and archaeological survey on the prospective site.
Festival owners have already gathered letters of recommendation from surrounding cities, representatives and civic groups, including the Lions Club and Jaycees, Peterson said.
The Renaissance Festival is a founding member of Shakopee’s RiverSouth tourist and entertainment initiative. Festival officials say they hope to remain a member even if they make the move to nearby Jordan.
“We’re going to be around 40-plus more years,” Beller said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648