The future of the long-standing Minnesota Renaissance Festival is uncertain, as the Scott County Board of Commissioners is considering revoking the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) issued to Mid-America Festivals to operate the festival and Trail of Terror.
While some social media posts allege the board revoked the CUP on Dec. 20, meeting documents do not back that claim up, and the item was not on the Dec. 20 agenda. The board previously heard testimony at its Nov. 15 meeting, but at that time voted to table a decision on the matter until Jan. 17, 2023.
The Minnesota Renaissance Festival has been operating at its current location in Louisville Township since 1973, and draws an estimated 300,000 visitors every year. Mid-America Festivals leases land from Bryan Rock Products, Inc. and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to operate the festival.
The reason the board is considering revoking the CUP is due to traffic and fire protection concerns that arose during the 2022 festival season. According to Scott County Planning and Resource Management Director Brad Davis, there are 30 conditions that need to be met to comply with the CUP, which was issued back in 1998. Failure to meet those conditions could result in the board revoking the CUP.
Mid-America Festivals was sent a letter back on Oct. 24 outlining four alleged violations:
1. Notify the county of physical and operational changes.
Mid-America Festivals did not inform the county that their lease with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) expired. This lease included office spaces and buildings, including parking used for the Trail of Terror. The lease expired Jan. 1, 2022, but Mid-America Festivals was allowed until Aug. 15 to fully vacate. The termination of the lease is considered an operational change and impacts total parking for the 2022 season.
2. Provide all necessary medical services, security staff, sanitation services, public phones, and fire protection as required for the events.
The termination of the above-mentioned lease also affected this provision, as the land designated for the 2022 Site Emergency Route traversed over property owned by SMSC. Scott County Sheriff’s staff working traffic control during the festival discovered the designated emergency route was gated and locked at the tribal property line.
3. All parking shall be provided on-site. No parking shall be allowed on private driveways or state, county or township road right-of-ways.
A total of 23,344 parking spaces in 14 lots were listed in regards to the 2022 season. County staff took aerial photographs of some on-site parking lots using a drone on Sept. 24. County staff counted 988 vehicles in a full parking lot, which included some scattered open stalls, in a lot that was supposed to hold 1,569 vehicles.
Drone images of the King’s Lot were similar — full except for a few scattered open spaces — and county staff counted 3,213 vehicle spaces in a lot that was estimated to hold 5,061 vehicles.
County staff allege that the inability to meet parking demand resulted in visitors parking at other locations outside the festival grounds and walking into the festival. County Sheriff’s deputies working the festival observed people walking along Highway 41 to reach the festival grounds. Others were observed parking near the Marschall Road Transit Station in Shakopee and taking a transit bus to the festival grounds.
4. The applicant shall comply with all federal, state and county licenses, regulations and ordinances, including the Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Transportation.
County staff alleged Mid-America Festivals is in violation of the Scott County Zoning Ordinance requiring traffic control be channeled and controlled in a manner that avoids congestion on public streets, traffic hazards and excessive traffic through residential areas, particularly truck traffic.
Meeting documents cite complaints from residents and business owners about traffic back-ups and congestion during the last two weekends in 2021 and 2022.
A couple dozen residents showed up to provide public input on the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
Many of the people speaking in support of the festival were festival vendors, like Mark Goldfarb, who operates Catskill Mountain Moccasins. Goldfarb described the Minnesota Renaissance Festival as the “holy grail” of renaissance events and its closure would be detrimental to himself and the 10 families he supports through the business.
Also speaking on behalf of the festival were Feast of Fantasy Host Jim Cunningham, Nicole Parker with Royal Armory, vendors Lois Davis and Mark Sieve, Mid-America Festival Owner Jim Peterson and Mid-America Festival legal representative Philip Kaplan.
A number of residents also took the podium to express their frustrations with the festival, such as Louisville Township business owner Bob Pieper, who runs a furniture refinishing business. Pieper told board members that he closed his business four weekends in a row due to customers being unable to access his business.
Shakopee resident Sue Murphy, who lives on 150th Street W., shared comments in a Zoom chat that her family is limited to leaving their property in a single direction during festival days. Murphy expressed concern that emergency vehicles would be unable to reach townships due to traffic issues.
Scott County Commissioner Michael Beard said he views the matter as a parking issue and wants to see a plan to move people faster off the road.
The Scott County Board tabled action on the matter until its Jan. 17, 2023 meeting.
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