Ren Fest hoping state eases COVID-19 crowd restrictions by Labor Day weekend

Organizers of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee have pitched a COVID-19 safety plan to the state in hopes of opening the event by Labor Day weekend.

Ren Fest recently announced pushing back the festival a couple of weeks to see if COVID-19 case numbers in the state drop and restrictions ease on entertainment venues.

“We have many, many acres that we think we can keep people safe, spread out, social distanced, be safe and people still have a good time," said Stephanie Whipps, Ren Fest marketing and events director. “We think we can have fun and do a good job.”

Festival staff asked the state to allow them to open at 50% capacity on their 25-acre venue, which would mean around 17,000 people at a time.

Minnesota’s Department of Health said currently the guidelines allow up to 1,500 at certain venues with specific restrictions.

That’s only allowed if groups of people can be limited to 250 people broken up in pods, with each group only having interactions with the people in that group, according to the MDH.

“The Department continues to have serious concerns about the level of community spread and trajectory of the virus and does not plan to recommend an increase in capacity limits for outdoor, non-seated recreational events in the immediate future,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Daniel Huff said.

“It’s very stressful,” longtime Oakdale artist Sean Hanley said. “We don’t know if they are going to be opening. We don’t know how many people are going to be coming out there. We don’t know anything.”

During the past eight years, Hanley has had a booth at Ren Fest to sell his musical dolls to festivalgoers.

Hanley said he’s yet to see the COVID-19 preparedness plan for vendors, and he wonders what changes would have to be made for customer safety.

“The Scott County Board of Commissioners, County officials, and staff have been contacted by scores, if not hundreds, of people who have expressed their opinions, perspectives, concerns, and questions, all of which have been legitimately and considered thoughtfully,” said Lezlie Vermillion Scott County Administrator.

“Yet in the final analysis, Scott County has no prevailing legal authority to weigh in, countermand, or defy the restrictions, provisions, guidelines, and recommendations that have been appropriately and legally established by the state of Minnesota,” Vermillion wrote in an email to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Ren Fest said it won’t open if the state doesn’t ease crowd sizes, which would mean tickets and artisan fees could be applied to next year’s festival.