By Jeff Wagner

VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — A small Twin Cities suburb has a towering idea to bring hundreds of thousands of Super Bowl visitors to town.

Vadnais Heights wants to turn a plot of land near I-35E into the “Northern Lights and Ice Festival.”

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The event, which would run from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, 2018, would have an ice palace that stands 52 feet tall along with several other winter activities like snowmobiling, ice skating, sledding and more.

With so many visitors in the Twin Cities for the big game, organizers estimate the festival could draw in more than 300,000 people, but some people worry it’s a lofty goal for their small town.

Ice palaces are just as much a part of Minnesota’s history as ice itself. Vadnais Heights Mayor Bob Fletcher worked on them firsthand in 1986 and 1992, and during his time in law enforcement.

“I saw the sense of wonderment that kids had and I’ve always known when the Super Bowl comes here again, we need to make sure we’re prepared to put a proposal together of family friendliness,” he said.

The lighting expert behind the 1992 Ice Palace, Tom Keller, is already on board with the project. Palace architect Bill Rust designed the 1992 Ice Palace and has also joined the effort. Mayor Fletcher is confident their experience along with allure of winter spectacle will bring Super Bowl visitors to town.

“When [visitors] go back to Texas or California or Tennessee or Florida, (they’re) going to say, ‘That was a great memory up there in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota’,” he said.

During a volunteers meeting Monday at the Vadnais Heights Commons, Mayor Fletcher was hoping to solicit some creative ideas. However, he was first met with concern and opposition.

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One resident worried about parking and traffic and if Vadnais Heights should even bother hosting the event.

Tina Volpe worries Super Bowl visitors won’t venture up to Vadnais Heights from the Twin Cities and that they’d already be at the St. Paul Winter Carnival which would be happening at the same time.

“To me it seems like [Vadnais Heights] is trying to create a similar type of event and that organization and that group is an institution in St. Paul, I mean it’s 130-plus years,” she said.

Residents like Vicki Engelen have a different outlook.

She’s ready to volunteer and looks forward seeing this empty lot near I-35E turn into winter wonderland visitors won’t ever forget.

“A lot of [visitors] have not had these kind of winter activities, depends on what teams are playing. But this will be a novelty and it will kind of put us on the map,” Engelen said.

The plot of land for the event is northeast of the I-35E interchange at County Road E East.

Mayor Fletcher said they’re working to secure sponsors to pay for the $500,000.

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He said the deadline to get that money is mid-September and if the money is collected in time then the event would be canceled.

Jeff Wagner