The city of Excelsior took in more than 10 times its usual parking fees this winter thanks to the Ice Castles attraction, but the jury is still out on whether the popular event will return to Excelsior next year.
Informal response to the event was mostly positive, officials said, but they're surveying residents and businesses to get more feedback. Meanwhile, Ice Castles LLC, the Utah-based company that builds the castles in six cities in the northern U.S. and Canada, has not commented publicly on its plans for next winter.
"I don't know if Ice Castles wants to come back; I don't know if we want them to come back," Council Member Dale Kurschner said.
The massive frozen structure has been knocked down, City Manager Kristi Luger said, "so now it's just a big pile of ice."
The question is whether the ice will melt in time to get the grassy field back to normal when the space is needed for spring events, including soccer leagues, a half marathon and an Easter egg hunt April 20.
The attraction generated $72,000 in parking-meter fees for Excelsior, January through March, compared to an average of $6,500 over the same period in previous winters.
Excelsior also collected about $22,000 up front from Ice Castles for use of the parking space.
Some of the parking money will be used to reimburse the water fund for water used to build the castles, which are made of hundreds of thousands of icicles sprayed with a mist that freezes to form walls, towers, tunnels and other frozen architectural flourishes.
Although the City Council hasn't decided how to use the remaining $54,000, members indicated in a work session Monday that they'd like put the money toward a fund reserved to improve the Commons: updating playgrounds, the band shell, buildings and other features.
When the city first agreed in November to host the Ice Castles, officials said they hoped to reap more than $100,000 from parking meters. Warm weather early in the winter delayed opening of the castles from late December to mid-January, which may have reduced attendance. The company has not publicly commented on attendance figures.
The city wants to hear what residents and local merchants thought of the event. The city received a few complaints about noise and traffic from residents living near the Commons, Kurschner said, but most residents seemed to like it. Police and fire departments reported no extra problems. Even merchants that didn't see a big increase in business have said it might help promote the city as a year-round recreational destination.
"Overall, it looks positive for the community, but we are still looking at ways to further assess how beneficial it was," Kurschner said.
The attraction moved to Excelsior this winter from Stillwater, where it had been located in recent years, because some equipment used to repair the Lift Bridge over the St. Croix River occupied its usual site.