People with disabilities spoke and the Minnesota State Fair staff listened. The result is more accessible parking spaces, respite space and additional accommodations. Changes have been made to the West End Market’s transit hub, which opened in 2014. The transit hub and new entrance are meant to direct more traffic to the western part of the fairgrounds.
Fair Communications Director Brienna Schuette said changes were made in response to fairgoers’ comments last year. “We don’t get to have a soft opening, like many restaurants and stores do,” she said. “We rely on feedback from our guests to make changes.”
The West End Market replaced the longtime Heritage Square attraction. It not only offered a change to improve fair access, it also provided an opportunity to make the ground level to Dan Patch Avenue. Heritage Square was on a rise and getting in and out could be a challenge. “It had been decades since we’d made such a larger physical change to the fairgrounds,” Schuette said.
Schuette said fair officials received a lot of feedback that depending on where in the lineup a bus dropped passengers off, some fairgoers had a long trek to the gate and plaza where they could purchase tickets and rent a wheelchair or scooter. “We heard the call for a respite from the walk and the sun, so this year, we’re installing benches along the walkway with umbrellas to shade from the sun,” she said.
Shifting more fair arrivals and departures to the West End has also meant adding a fifth wheelchair and electric scooter rental location, at Gate 18 at the southwest corner of Randall Avenue and Underwood Street. “With more foot traffic through that gate with the reconfiguration of the West End and area north of the grandstand, we wanted to provide another option just inside a popular gate where people can pick up a wheelchair or scooter as soon as they start their day,” Schuette said.
North of the West End gate, the fair is adding about 80 more accessible parking spaces. Schuette said is also meant to accommodate visitors’ requests. Access to fairgrounds parking is at Larpenteur Avenue at Underwood Street and Gate #2 off Snelling Ave. at Hoyt Avenue. Additional accessible parking is available south of Como Avenue. Parking for people with disabilities is available on a first come, first served basis. Cost is $13. Vehicles with trailers will be charged $26.
Yet another new accommodation is at the West End Market’s Schell’s Stage. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation will be offered for the new “History On-A-Schtick” show offered at 9:30 a.m. daily. The show is produced by the Minnesota Historical Society. That brings the total of ASL-interpreted shows at the fair to four. The other ASL shows are the All-Star Stunt Dog Splash at 11 a.m. daily at the North Woods on Cooper Street between Randall and Lee avenues; performer Sean Emery at 12:30 p.m. daily on the Family Fair Stage in Baldwin Park, and the parade at 2 p.m. daily on the east side of the Family Fair Stage in Baldwin Park.
Roving ASL interpreters are available to interpret other shows and exhibits upon request every day between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Ask about interpretation at
the administration building on Cosgrove Street.
Visitors will also notice this year that many of the fair’s curb cuts have been rebuilt, to comply with current standards.
GETTING TO THE FAIR
Driving to the fair? The fair provides a free park and ride lot with free wheelchair-accessible bus service for people with disabilities and their companions. The lot is located on the north side of the Oscar Johnson Arena, 1039 De Courcy Circle, south of the fairgrounds. Exit from Snelling Avenue at Energy Park Drive; travel east to the first left past Snelling east of the Merrill Corporation office building and go to the north side of Oscar Johnson Arena. Passengers travel nonstop to the fairgrounds and are dropped off at the Como Loop Gate #9. Buses run continuously, from 8 a.m. to midnight daily.
The transit hub and lots on Como offer access via accessible express buses. The majority of the buses operating at the following lots are wheelchair-accessible: Roseville Area High School/Grace Church (daily), St. Rose of Lima (Monday– Friday and Sundays after 1 p.m.), U of M -Minneapolis campus (daily) and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (daily & Sundays after 1 p.m.) All other lots have limited wheelchair accessible buses operating. Check the fair website for details. Metro Transit also provides numerous wheelchair accessible options to the Minnesota State Fair through regular route buses. Call 612-373-3333 or visit www.metrotransit.org to find regular route bus information.
2015 will be the second year that Metro Mobility users will be able to use Loop Gate 9 off of Como Avenue as well as Gate 2 off of Hoyt Avenue. The Hoyt Avenue gate was added last year. The Como Gate is the suggested gate to drop off fair visitors who have mobility issues.
One advantage of the Como Gate is that it is closest to the drop-off point for HomeTown Mobility equipment. HomeTown Mobility is accepting reservations for wheelchairs or electric scooters. Reservations will only be accepted for full day rental and must be made 24 hours in advance. Cancellation must be made 48 hours in advance to receive a full refund, less a $5 cancellation fee per rental unit. At the fairgrounds hours are 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. The deposit of a driver’s license or state ID is required.
Costs range from $20 per day for a wheelchair to $55 per day for an electric scooter, cash, credit cards and debit cards are accepted. The HomeTown Mobility’s office is 877-928-5388, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, on weekends during the fair.
Wheelchair battery recharging is available at the Care and Assistance Center at 1883 Dan Patch Ave. The center serves as headquarters for people of any age who have become lost or separated from their group. Infant care facilities are also available. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Outlets to plug in scooters are also available on the south wall of the Grandstand Building.
Assistive listening devices are available free of charge for use during Grandstand events. Receivers and headsets are available from Guest Services in the Visitors Plaza. A valid driver’s license or state ID and a credit card are required for deposit.
An Attraction Access Guide is available to assist fairgoers in making choices about which rides are appropriate for them, at all ticket outlets on the Mighty Midway and Kidway.
Another point to keep in mind is that while entertainment venues have accessible seating, it is available on a first-come basis. Plan to arrive early for shows and events.
And if the sunscreen stayed in the car or on the kitchen table, there’s help. One new offering is free sunscreen at all information booths, thanks to a partnership with the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, Vanicream Sunscreen and the State Fair. Fairgoers can use a hypoallergenic, SPF 30 sunscreen made in Rochester by Vanicream. It’s PABA-, benzophenones-, oil-, preservative- and gluten- free.
Anyone with additional questions about fair accessibility can call 651-288-4448 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For other questions and information on new fair features, food and attractions, visit www.mnstatefair.org.