Twin Cities 2021: A Whole New Auto Show Coming To St. Paul

With every auto show delaying their timeframes, one decided to do something different. This auto show decided to take it "on the road."

The Twin Cities Auto Show announced not only their new dates – May 15-23, 2021. They also announced a new venue for this year: The Minnesota State Fairgrounds. 

For 47 years, the auto show made their home at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Convenient as it may be, there was a fear that it might not be available for hosting the 48th edition. Mostly because no one knows when the COVID-19 virus would allow governments and facilities to open up convention centers and other large enclosed places again.

This has been the challenge of many other auto shows around the world. The Chicago Auto announced it would reschedule their 2021 show into “the spring” with probable date set. The other major auto shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York pushed their 2021 dates well into the summer. 

However, the Greater Metropolitan Auto Dealer Association – the producers of the Twin Cities Auto Show – had an idea that was completely out of the box. Both GMADA President Scott Lambert and Twin Cities Auto Show Director Mary Veline went live on Facebook on December 14, 2020 to announce the new plan. 

The new plan revolves around the venue: The state fairgrounds in St. Paul. With 322 acres available, the Twin Cities Auto Show might not fill the entire property. With some creativity, the open-air atmosphere would lend itself to some usage somewhere around or near the grandstands.

Keep in mind that there are both indoor and outdoor exhibition space available. Both Lambert and Veline mentioned in their announcement video that they would expand the offering of interactive experiences beyond Camp Jeep and Ram’s own track. They mentioned the possibility of an SUV proving course showing what these hot selling vehicles can do. Also, an electric vehicle driving experience that will help boost the profile of other manufacturer’s electrified products. 

At the fairgrounds, some facilities are already there. There are booths for the automakers that are usually activated for the State Fair. Still, the property is no stranger to automotive events, such as Back To The 50’s and several other car shows on the property. 

Both Lambert and Veline hinted that another amenity that might be available to Auto Show visitors would be the fair food vendor sites on the fairground’s property. Activating these booths would be a great economic boost to these vendors who have been shut out of the 2020 State Fair due to state guidelines on large gatherings and safety from the virius. 

Another plus for this auto show is the announcement of free parking. Usually, you pay $11.00 for a good spot outside the Minneapolis Convention Center. However, having the fairgrounds available for free parking on site is truly a huge attraction for visitors, exhibitors, and the media alike. I would be curious as to where these parking spaces will be located at the fairgrounds. 

Of note, public transit will be covered by a few MetroTransit lines. They will most likely not activate the special fair bus service, but there’s plenty of lines that border the fairgrounds itself. 

Which brings me to a concern. Perhaps this could end up being a non-issue, yet it has to be discussed. If you let the public onto the fairgrounds for the Twin Cities Auto Show and you still have some guidelines in place, some safety measures will have to be implemented. Certainly, the outdoor spots could be mask-free, but what happens when you have exhibits indoors? Rather, how will you manage foot traffic on the fairgrounds? Will there be pinch-points or could some space and on-site management help keep visitors and exhibitors from being potentially exposed to lingering viral strains of COVID-19.

Make no mistake, an outdoor auto show sounds like a great idea. In fact, the North American International Auto Show was about to do an activation outside of TCF Center at Hart Plaza for some activities tied to the show this year. However, that never got off the ground due to the pandemic. I have a feeling we will see more outdoor exhibits than indoor ones this time around. 

For our market, utilizing the Minnesota State Fairgrounds could be a game changer for the Twin Cities Auto Show. Re-imagining this auto show on one of the most iconic locales in this state is ripe for success.

However, I am very curious as to the exact format, display strategy, and everything being talked about to see whether this will be a success. We have some time until May. We also have some time to see the end of this pandemic, as well. 

Now, you have all eyes on St. Paul. A very good spot to be for a Tier 2/3 auto show. It shows that innovation does exist in the auto show space after all. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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