Fairgrounds all but closed: Winter use is quiet, tensive

Beth Hornby

Signs for deep-fried cheese curds and ice-cold soda still hang at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, but none of these delicacies can be found there this time of year.

Although the fairgrounds appear deserted, they are used for a variety of events and activities throughout the year.

Some students said walking through the empty streets is like walking through a creepy B-rated horror film.

“It looks like the type of scenario where bad clowns jump out from behind boarded-up buildings,” graphic design senior Nicki Treptau said.

Stacy Towne, also a graphic design senior, said the fairgrounds give her a similar feeling.

“It really looks like a ghost town and things seem rundown,” she said.

Towne walks through the fairgrounds on her way to restaurants and classes on the St. Paul campus. Although she said the area is normally lifeless when she strolls through, she has been to flea markets and rummage sales at the fairgrounds in the fall.

Minnesota State Fair assistant manager Steve Pooch said the fairgrounds host hundreds of events, including gun shows, car shows and flea markets.

As if frozen in place by winter’s chill, State Fair buildings seem untouched, but the roads are plowed.

Kristen Wollin, the fair’s events supervisor, said the roads are plowed for a reason. While most buildings are unheated, several are used regularly during the winter.

Brad Rugg, University coordinator of the Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, said 4-H clubs often use fair buildings for horse and dog shows.

Space in heated buildings can be rented to store boats, campers and cars for owners who want to protect their summer toys, Wollin said.

She also said the University Center for Transportation Studies takes advantage of the fairground’s pedestrian-free streets to test new bus technologies including self-driven buses.

For those looking for recreation – the State Fair Colosseum, used for animal shows during the fair – is converted into a regulation-size hockey rink and jogging facility from November through March. For $2, anyone can come in to play hockey, skate or jog around the cement track.

State Fair events coordinator Mike Goodrich said the coliseum is one of the few buildings that remain active during winter months.

“We maintain positive contacts with the University and we employ a lot of agriculture students for events,” Goodrich said.