EXCELSIOR — The Excelsior Ice Castles attraction, which closed this past weekend, brought many visitors and plenty of revenue to the area, according to a number of business and city officials.
And, if Excelsior resident Mark Samuelson has his way, the community could have plenty more attractions to offer.
“I liked seeing all the people and the attraction itself; but I’m thinking, hey, if visitors are willing to buy tickets to see Ice Castles, I’ve got an ice dam on my roof and mounds of snow that I’ll only charge them $3 or so to see,” Samuelson joked.
The Ice Castles event officially closed Saturday, March 9. Organization officials say they do not publicly announce attendance figures, but admit there were times that thousands of people visited the attraction on individual days.
“There were some large numbers on our prime Fridays and Saturdays,” Paige Faymoville, the event general manager for Ice Castles, told Lakeshore Weekly News. “The numbers were surprisingly OK despite how nasty the weather was at times.”
Faymoville was referring to a week’s delay in the attraction opening and several days of ridiculously low temperatures and wind chills.
While city of Excelsior officials say they would like to have the attraction return next season to the city, Faymoville said that won’t be decided until late this month or early next month.
“There are several determining factors,” Faymoville said. “There will be a meeting with the local chamber of commerce, city officials, the Ice Castles owners and others to discuss all that. It may or may not be back in Excelsior next year, but the one thing I can tell you is that the people here; the city, the businesses, the residents, have been wonderful.
“What’s made this good in Excelsior is that it has not been in this area of the Twin Cities for a while, so we have gotten some newer faces visiting,” she added. “Bringing it back to the west side of the cities has generated a lot of new guests, which is always good to see.”
Amanda Roseth, the attraction’s events director, said visitors typically come from within 150 miles.
“We plan to be back in Minnesota, but exactly where, at this point that’s uncertain,” Roseth said.
Lorn Ling, who drove with two others from Los Angeles to visit friends in St. Paul, said the trio was excited to visit the Ice Castles site last week.
“We heard about it and had to see it because we couldn’t believe such a thing existed,” said Ling, who was admittedly cold because he was not properly dressed. “Who makes a castle out of ice? We certainly don’t see anything like this in California.”
Businesses in Excelsior and the area have reaped added revenue during a normally more docile seasonal sales period, according to Laura Hotvet, executive director of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce.
“There has been a more immediate measurement of increased sales for the restaurants in the area because of the Ice Castles,” she said. “We’ll be better able to get an idea of how well this has impacted local businesses as time goes on.
“This has been very positive for our business community and we have been very glad to welcome so many visitors to the community,” Hotvet said. “We’d love to have the Ice Castles back here.”
Amy Edwards, events coordinator for the city of Excelsior, said the city received substantially more in parking revenue compared with a normal season.
Parking revenue between Jan. 11 and March 3 was more than $70,000, Edwards said. That compares to an average of about $2,000 a month in winter months.
The city will not receive any portion of the ticket sales, she said.
“Certainly there was an uptick in sales, with the most noticeable in diners,” Edwards said. “Retailers realize that although they may have seen a small increase in sales because of the Ice Castles, they potentially might realize greater sales this summer when people come back to see how beautiful Excelsior is in the summer.”
Jack Stevens, general manager of Maynard’s Restaurant in Excelsior, said his and other businesses in the area appreciated the boost in sales.
“It made our winter season a lot better,” he said. “It’s been good for us and we’re real happy the event was here. Anything we can do to promote business in Excelsior in the winter is a good thing.”
Dede Conkey, general manager of Hazellewood Grill and Tap Room in Tonka Bay, said her business experienced “a noticeable increase in sales from the event. I think we would all like to have it back again.”
Lt. Steve Neururer of the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department said there were “some issues early on” with parking in the area of The Commons, where the Ice Castles were on display.
The shuttle bus route was altered a bit to better accommodate the flow of traffic and flow of people either walking or driving to the area, he said, adding that he had not heard of any community complaints in recent weeks, except for some not paying for parking.
Mary Caldwell, who said she lives a few blocks from the Ice Castles, was initially concerned about the substantial increase of traffic in the residential areas around the site.
“I think all of us who live in the area were a bit concerned about it all, but overall I think the visitors were pretty good about it all,” she said. “Just like everywhere else when there are events, you park where you can. I think overall, the residents realized this was a good thing for Excelsior.”
The Ice Castles will be dismantled over the next several weeks, with some of it melted by hot water and other parts of the massive sculpture broken apart and hauled away.
City Manager Kristi Luger said the city’s contract with the Ice Castles organization calls for the organization to remove the structure and make any necessary repairs to the property.
“We required a damage deposit from them and it calls for them to restore The Commons to the condition it was when they came,” she said.
Faymoville said dismantling plans involve melting some of the structure to preserve lights, cords and piping. “The one thing they really try to save are the lights,” she said, adding that it could take a week just to remove the lights.
“It’s all in the contract; for us to redo sidewalks, fix the turf and other things,” Faymoville said. “We know Excelsior wants to get its beautiful park back and we’ll take care of all that so that it’s up to the city’s standards.”