The Minnesota Renaissance Festival needs a new home in 2021, and Jordan is the prime contender.
Mid-America Festivals, the company that operates the festival, is entering the final steps before naming Jordan the new home of the Renaissance Festival. Land has been purchased and the festival operator hopes to move to Jordan for the 2021 season, according to Mid-America marketing director Stephanie Whipps.
One of the final hurdles will be obtaining a permit from the Scott County Board of Commissioners to host the festival near Jordan.
Scott County Planning Manager Brad Davis said Mid-America would need to apply for a conditional use permit to relocate the festival to Jordan, and prior to that, go through an environmental review process.
“Subject to permitting, we would be in Jordan in 2021,” Whipps said. “We have purchased land near the Scott County Fairgrounds.”
Scott County officials say Mid-America has not yet applied for a conditional use permit. But if all goes as planned, the Shakopee-based company will hold the 50th and final festival at the Shakopee site in 2020.
“We got encouragement to stay in Scott County so we looked for a viable site as close to our current location as possible,” Whipps said.
The company has been looking to relocate the festival for nearly 10 years, because the current 150-acre site continues to shrink to make way for silica sand mining operations.
Mid-America’s lease with the landowners, the Malkerson family, was originally set to last through 2023, but an early notice clause stipulated that Malkerson Sales could terminate the lease early to access silica sand deposits under the festival grounds and parking lots.
That notice was given, and over the past few years, festival parking lots have been excavated and increasingly isolated from festival grounds, requiring customers to make a lengthy trek to the festival.
The move out Shakopee has been delayed twice. The lease was set to terminate in 2016, but later extended to 2019, and again to 2020.
In an effort to move the festival to a more environmentally favorable, company-owned location, Mid-America purchased land near Jordan over the past three years. The first acquisition was a 150-acre piece of land just west of Jordan, along County Road 59 (Delaware Avenue) north of Highway 169 in St. Lawrence Township near the Scott County Fairgrounds.
“We think the Jordan site complements the fair, it is sort of like taking the Renaissance Fair and moving it down the road (Highway 169) and just opening it again,” Mid-America president James Peterson said in 2017.
Mid-America eyed that parcel in 2016 because it provided flat land, which is ideal for parking, as well as trees, which provide the festival with shade and ambiance. Due to the nature of the festival, Mid-America said little development would be necessary on the land.
‘No thank you’
Shortly after the Jordan Independent broke the news in 2017 that Mid-America was eyeing Jordan as the festival’s future location, many residents voiced their opposition.
Their primary concern was traffic congestion. The festival, one of the largest of its kind, attracts more than 300,000 people per season, and runs for 16 days over the course of seven weekends. The festival would stick to the same scheduling, Whipps said.
Many Jordan residents fear the influx of visitors would put tremendous stress on Highway 169, particularly at the stoplight intersection of Highways 169 and 282 — an area of Jordan that already experiences slowdowns during peak traffic hours.
Councilwoman Amanda Schuh said in response to the news, “Our neighbors in Jordan and St. Lawrence Township need to have their concerns heard and alleviated regarding the impacts of bringing the festival to our city and town. The festival will certainly affect Jordan in terms of increased traffic and tourism, but the full benefits of increased growth and other economic benefits may fall short of expectations. I believe we have an opportunity to create a good partnership with our residents and the festival to make this an enjoyable event for all. We can take advantage of opportunities to partner with the festival including fundraising, donations, employment, and highlighting local businesses.”
In addition to the usual congestion, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Jordan City Council are exploring the possibility of constructing an interchange at the intersection of Highways 169 and 282. A project of that magnitude could present a major, and literal, roadblock on the primary corridor that leads to the festival grounds.
An interchange project north of Jordan on Highway 169 is scheduled to take three years to complete, so a project of similar scope could affect traffic for multiple festival seasons.
That said, some say the festival could be a boon for certain industries. The city council has been trying to attract hotel developers for years, and the presence of a major festival could help stoke interest from hotel and other economic developers.
But for the time being, Scott County will decide the fate of the festival’s future in Jordan.