Bloomington balks at donating water for Ice Castles at Mall of America

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The City of Bloomington turned down a request from developers to donate water for constructing Ice Castles at Mall of America.

In their September 20 proposal to the Bloomington Planning Commission, partners Brent Christensen and Ryan Davis asked the City of Bloomington to provide water for the giant attraction now on display.

“In the past the Ice Castles has been made possible through public private joint ventures between our team and local municipalities. The local municipalities have provided water and the property on which we’ve built the Ice Castles. As part of this application, we ask that the City of Bloomington donate the water for the Ice Castles,” wrote Christensen and Davis.

Bob Cockriel, Bloomington utilities superintendent, said the City is not donating the water. “They are being charged just like you at your house. We don’t make water to give it away,” he said. “The City is tasked by the Department of Natural Resources to conserve water. It wouldn’t look good in our conservation plans to give water away.”

The Bloomington Planning Commission said at the September meeting that a fire hydrant would be tapped for Ice Castles’ water supply. Senior planner Julie Farnham said the hydrant would be metered so that the applicant will be charged for the water used at the site.

Christensen, in a phone interview from Colorado, said that cities of his previous Ice Castles in Midway, Utah and Silverthorne, Colorado donated water.

“It would have been nice if the city [of Bloomington] could have donated the water, but it is what it is. I wish we didn’t have to pay, but we’re glad to be in Minnesota,” he said.

Doug Junker, license examiner for the City of Bloomington, said he doesn’t recall the actual official request of Ice Castles’ donation of water. “I remember it was mentioned, but we aren’t in the business of funding requests from events. We have a lot of large-scale events here, like Race for the Cure, that pay for their events,” he said.

Millions of gallons

The ice castle concept is very new. A series of ice towers are grown by sprinkling water onto strategically placed icicles that have been fused to existing ice structures, said Ice Castles’ proposal to the city. (The St. Paul Winter Carnival’s ice palaces typically cut blocks of ice from lakes for construction).

Estimates of water usage in the application was four million gallons from Ice Castles’ building phase in December until it finishes in February. However, Cockriel said the project has already surpassed earlier projections and is using more.

Christensen said the bulk of the water is used at the beginning of the icicle manufacturing. Mall of America’s Ice Castles is a bigger project than his previous castles.

Cockriel said that Ice Castles’ water usage is weather-dependent. Developers lose water when hit by warm weather and then they need to use more water to rebuild. “They have used an additional one million gallons,” he said.

Cockriel estimated the cost of four million gallons of water at Bloomington’s rate would amount to $9,600 at the 2013 rate of $2.40 per thousand gallons.

For the love of ice

Ice Castles’ application said water is not shut off during the night. “On cold nights, an internal irrigation system sprays water on the newly attached icicles. Water freezes to these icicles, causing them to increase in size and mass and creating new formations. As this process is repeated over and over again the Ice Castle is grown.”

A specially built “cozy” of insulation and heat was built around the water hydrant. During the day, water is run at a very low rate to keep the water line from freezing.

Although Mall of America Land Holdings is listed as the Applicant and Ice Castles of America is the lessee in the Interim Use Permit application, the Mall of America did not donate their water, or pay the city for Ice Castles’ water usage, according to Christensen.

Christensen said they have been surprised at the large turnout for Ice Castles Mall of America. “I just came back from our Silverthorne [Colorado] site and it’s a beautiful castle, but no one is even there yet. We get 1,000 to 2,000 people a day in Minnesota. People in Minnesota love ice castles.”

55,000 people are expected to visit Ice Castles through February.

Also in the Daily Planet: read Barb Teed’s feature on Ice Castles, and see photos by Jeff Rutherford.