Being part of the Great Minnesota Get-Together this year will require a walk through a metal detector.
Officials with the Minnesota State Fair announced Sunday that its board approved adding the detectors to all public entrances. The decision comes after four years of consideration and aligns with safety measures taken at other state fairs, major league sporting events and theme parks, said State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer.
“It’s just another layer of security,” Hammer said. “When you have 2 million of your friends and neighbors in one place, you want to make sure that everything is safe and secure and that people feel that way.”
Last year’s State Fair ended with a shooting that injured three people outside the main gate, followed by an altercation that involved a woman getting run over. Police said the shooting — which sent fairgoers fleeing down Midway Parkway — was not a random attack and involved rival gangs, and fair officials called the violence an aberration.
Hammer said the fair board’s decision this weekend wasn’t driven by any one incident or concern, but rather came as part of an ongoing update to safety and security plans.
Bag checks were added at the fair entrances in 2016, and fair staff have for years been fielding questions about whether metal detectors would be added, Hammer said. Other recent security measures have included more restrictions on traffic on the fairgrounds, increased staffing and video surveillance.
“[Metal detectors] are nothing new and nothing people are unfamiliar with,” Hammer said, adding that fair officials took cues from U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field. “Passing through a metal detector … has been the fact of life at public events in the Twin Cities for years.”
Fair officials aren’t expecting the detectors will clog the entrances with slow-moving lines, and nothing has changed regarding what is and isn’t allowed on the fairgrounds. All bags, coolers and packages will be searched at the entrances, and no weapons, fireworks or alcohol will be allowed in. Bikes, skateboards and hoverboards are also prohibited, and management or police can refuse other items at their discretion.
Still, some fairgoers are worried that the changes will mean long, slow lines at the entrances. “Security lines have not been an issue in the past, but that could change depending on how fast they can [get] a family of four through metal detection,” said Chad Huot, who tries to get to the fair for each of its 12 days. He welcomed the bag checks, but said he’s never felt worried about his safety at the fair — after all, he said, it’s a place where no one feels like a stranger. “I just hope the ‘magic’ of the Minnesota State Fair is not diminished by new security,” he said.
Several other state fairs, including those in Texas and Wisconsin, have implemented metal detectors at their entrances, Hammer said, and grandstand acts have required increased security in recent years. “These are big discussions now,” he said. “A lot of this wouldn’t have been brought up 10 or 15 years ago.”
Natalie Chaffin, the daughter of Pronto Pup owners Gregg and Lori Karnis, said the business — which is known for one of the fair’s top-selling foods — is happy about the arrival of metal detectors.
“Adding extra security such as this ensures more safety for our customers and for ourselves and our staff,” Chaffin said in a statement. “Making sure people feel safe is of utmost importance.”
The board also announced nearly $10 million in upgrades to the fairgrounds in time for this year’s fair, which runs from Aug. 27 to Sept. 7. More than $5 million of that will go toward maintenance projects, with another $4.5 million for capital work. A building at 1640 Como Av. — which was purchased by the fair in 2018 — will be renovated to include a year-round ticket office. Other improvements include upgrades to the livestock complex as well as to the utilities and communications systems.
Admission prices this year will be unchanged: Admission for adults 13-64 is $15; for kids 5-12 and seniors 65-plus it’s $13; children 4 and under get in free.
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440