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St. Paul, Vadnais Heights both plan ice palaces during Super Bowl

The 1986 ice palace near Lake Phalen was assembled with the help of 1,000 volunteers. The 128-foot-tall spectacle drew hundreds of thousands of visitors for the carnival's 100-year anniversary. (Courtesy of Charlie Hall)

ST. PAUL—When Super Bowl LII lands in Minneapolis next February, an enchanted winter wonderland made of massive blocks of ice will rise to the east, tempting visitors to cross the Mississippi River and venture over to Vadnais Heights.

Wait a second — Vadnais Heights? Shouldn't that be St. Paul?

Well, it looks as if the correct answer is both.

That's right — an "expertly designed ice palace" featuring an ice maze, ice sculpture, snow football and "amazing light shows" will help inaugurate Vadnais Heights' new " Northern Lights and Ice Festival" from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, according to a written statement from Mayor Bob Fletcher.

Despite months of efforts by St. Paul civic leaders to organize a massive ice palace during next year's St. Paul Winter Carnival, Fletcher announced Monday that his city has already planned one to coincide with the Super Bowl. Together with the Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corp., they've chosen the architect, the light show company and different themes for each day. Two volunteer recruitment events are scheduled Tuesday.

"The current plan for it is to be 52 feet high in honor of the 52nd Super Bowl, but we're certainly going to explore making it somewhat higher — a lot of it depends on ice conditions, and weather," Fletcher said.

Rosanne Bump, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, said Monday that she had not seen Fletcher's written release about the Vadnais Heights ice palace, but she was confident of one thing: His will be smaller. Much smaller.

The foundation, which oversees the St. Paul Winter Carnival, is still about a month away from announcing the dates, location and other details related to its own ice palace, the city's first in 14 years. She's thinking that with a little luck, it could break the world record of 166 feet in height, achieved in 1992 at St. Paul's Harriet Island.

"We're trying to go even a little bit bigger than that, so we'll see," Bump said. "We are in the process of raising funds. ... We're working on it, and we're feeling good about where we are right now. We certainly have further to go."

Her foundation has received funding for the 2018 palace from Explore Minnesota (the state's office of tourism), the city of St. Paul and private partners. Over its history, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has brought 36 ice palaces to St. Paul, the first in 1886. The city has not hosted an ice palace since 2004.


Fletcher said his team has set its sights on ice from two lakes in the north metro, or possibly from Detroit Lakes, Minn., where the Winter Carnival tends to harvest its own ice for ice sculptures.

"We're only talking about 4,000 or 5,000 blocks of ice, and they're (the Winter Carnival) talking about 20,000 blocks," Fletcher said.

"Our goal is to make this a family-friendly event that focuses on the character traits of Minnesota," he added. "There will be a lot of people from the southern United States coming up here who have never ridden a Polaris snowmobile or never been involved in ice fishing."

Fletcher, a former Ramsey County Sheriff who was elected mayor of Vadnais Heights in November, has plenty of personal ties to ice palace lore, and contacts that date back a generation or two. His father, Robert Fletcher Sr., a former dam designer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was the project engineer for the 1986 centennial ice castle that greeted scores of families by Lake Phalen.

"At Phalen we built a wonderful structure, something that hadn't been done for many, many years," said Tom Keller, who served as general contractor on the centennial project and worked closely at the time with the senior Fletcher and fellow organizer Charlie Hall.

Keller went on to become the construction manager for the world-record-holding 1992 Ice Palace at Harriet Island, which rose to 166 feet and drew football fans from Super Bowl XXVI, held that year at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. With construction costs of $1.1 million, the effort enthralled gawkers but bankrupted the St. Paul Winter Carnival Association.

According to the written announcement from Mayor Fletcher, Keller is serving as a construction consultant on the Vadnais Heights project. That's an unusual role for him, seeing as Keller also serves on the board of governors for the St. Paul effort.

"It's unrelated to what the St. Paul Winter Carnival has planned, that is correct," Keller said Monday. "I am what we call a governor on the board of governors, and it's a group of people that have been working for a few years to culminate the (St. Paul Winter Carnival) festival of 2018 — researching and developing the concept of building a large ice structure for 2018."

Keller deferred all other questions to Bump.


Fletcher said each day of the new Northern Lights and Ice Festival will feature "a theme of related activities, highlighting what makes Minnesota a champion-state": farming, hunting and fishing, the arts and performance, innovation, diversity, medicine, education, nonprofits and 10,000 lakes.

He said the 12-day festival will be organized around the slogan "Find Your Minnesota Nice in Vadnais Ice."

"The Olympics are in Korea two weeks after the Super Bowl, and we're going to attempt to have some of our Olympians make an appearance and do some skating," Fletcher said.

The city's chosen architect, Bill Rust, designed the world-record 1992 Ice Palace and the 2004 Ice Palace, which was erected near the Xcel Energy Center during the NHL All Star Game. Steve Frattalone, of Frattalone Associates and the lighting specialist for the 1992 Ice Palace, will coordinate lighting and special effects.

Fletcher said he himself was closely involved with security, traffic and shuttle transportation for both the 1986 and 1992 St. Paul palaces. He said the project's $500,000 budget will be supported in part by selling naming rights to an ice maze constructed to reflect the sponsor, among at least four naming opportunities.

Considering that a television ad during the Super Bowl could run in the millions of dollars, that's "one of the best advertising values in town," he said.

Days before the Super Bowl lands in Minneapolis, "every national media outlet will be in town looking for a news story about the venue every day," Fletcher said, "and as Minnesotans we need to let them know about the great place that we have here, and at the same time have fun."

The city's volunteer recruitment event takes place Tuesday at 3 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. at the Vadnais Heights Commons event center, 655 County Road F. More information is online at