Ice castle opens in downtown Stillwater

The ice castle in downtown Stillwater’s Lowell Park opens Jan. 5, 2018. A #ONLYINMN monument to the north of the castle offers a photo opportunity. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Ice Castles, LLC, the Utah-based event company that builds sculptural castles from ice, may return to Downtown Stillwater this winter — only if city staff feel the massive ice walls won’t damage city infrastructure.

During the Oct. 1 meeting, the Stillwater City Council approved the return of the winter venue for a third year, and with it an estimated 100,000 visitors to Stillwater in the most difficult time of year for businesses.

According to the application, this year’s Ice Castle would be located in the same footprint as previous years — in North Lowell Park between the pedestrian plaza and the Lift Bridge. However, city engineer Shawn Sanders has concerns about the quality of the soil and its ability to support the additional weight of the ice.

“As you go further north, the soils just get worse,” Sanders told the council.

In past years, the Ice Castle was allowed to set up sprayers to create the ice walls on Sam Bloomer Way, the street running along the St. Croix River. While the water creates ice in its intend location, overspray began to coat the gazebo and Sanders said he didn’t want ice to damage the structure or push against the foundation. He asked the council to approve the event without allowing the Ice Castle to touch Sam Bloomer Way.

“That would make it impossible for us,” said Ice Castle, LLC CEO Ryan Davis.

Davis told the council that they need enough width in construction to create a maze, courtyard and other features to make the event fun for visitors. If the structure would be too narrow, it would only be an ice tunnel, Davis said.

“This is already the narrowest castle was build,” Davis said.

The council asked Davis and Sanders to meet this week to walk the proposed site to see if the size needs can be figured out. However, if the site is too small for the ice venue to be constructed safely, Davis said they would go to a different city again this year.

However, Stillwater is a site he is interested in returning to. In exchange for allowing the event in the city park, Ice Castles will be charged a $75 per day base fee, equaling $12,675 for the duration the Ice Castle is in the park. The city will also impose a $3,000 fee for every 10,000 visitors beyond 50,000. These fees are a 30% increase from what they were paying last year after moving the attraction to the city of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka.

While the venue brings a positive economic benefit, the city has concerns about the impact the Ice Castle has on city infrastructure and the mess it leaves behind. In the spring of 2018, the city charged Ice Castles for “extensive damage” to infrastructure in the park. While costs to repair Lowell Park where paid by Ice Castles after the damage was found, the city has asked that for this year Ice Castles submit a $50,000 security deposit and a list of contractors capable of remediation work in order to expedite clean up in the spring. Ice Castles will need to vacate the site three weeks after its last day in operation - ending either on March 15 or sooner depending on weather.

“Personally, I love the Ice Castle, but the cleanup in the spring was not good,” said council member Mike Polehna. “We took a lot of heat that first year.”

For businesses in the city, the influx of 100,000 visitors — and the cash they spend — to Stillwater in January, February and March would be welcome.

“The first financial quarter is the most difficult for our businesses,” said Robin Anthony, the executive director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce.

Anthony said that events like the Ice Castle, Stillwater Lights display and other winter-friendly activities are part of making Stillwater a year-round destination, and would like to see the event return this winter.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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