Zephyr Theatre’s woes means no ice maze in downtown Stillwater this winter

People move through a large maze of ice walls.
google news

The lighted ice maze attraction that brought thousands of visitors to downtown Stillwater over the last two years will not be back in Stillwater this year, officials said Monday.

People negotiate the Stillwater Ice Palace Maze on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Billed as the largest ice maze in the United States, the Zephyr Theatre’s ice maze also features ice slides, an ice bar and S’mores-making station. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Officials from the Zephyr Theatre in downtown Stillwater, where the ice maze was built, and officials from Minnesota Ice, the company that provides the ice, could not come to an agreement, said Robin Anthony, executive director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a big bummer,” said Anthony, who also serves on the board of the theater. “I think it would have been a really good opportunity to get people through the theater.”

The future of the Zephyr Theatre, which opened in 2018, has been in jeopardy since October. That’s when its executive director, Calyssa Hall, resigned; most of the staff were furloughed, and productions were canceled.

“While there was no indication of intentional financial mismanagement, it was clear there are organizational and financial challenges that must be addressed immediately,” the trustees wrote in a statement at the time.

Still, theater supporters were hoping that the popular ice maze, which brought more than 31,000 people to downtown Stillwater in 2021, might be saved. Last year’s maze was made of 775,000 pounds of clear ice and more than 3,000 color-changing LED lights. It was believed to be the largest ice maze in the United States.

It was not clear on Monday whether an ice maze might be built elsewhere in the metro area this winter. Minnesota Ice’s owner and CEO Robbie Harrell said Monday that he could not comment at this time, but that he expects to have an announcement on Nov. 28.

Anthony said she hopes that the ice maze might return to Stillwater next winter. “I’m really unhappy that we couldn’t come to an agreement,” Anthony said. “Getting all those visitors here, especially in the winter, is huge. It’s just a consistent flow of people. We’re hoping that we can keep the door open for future years.”

The Zephyr board must raise about $500,000 “to make staff whole and pay off vendors,” Anthony said. “We’ve agreed to try to make a go of it. We have an advisory group now to help us brainstorm ideas, and we’re going to start working on a business model for the future. We first have to get things paid off while continuing to negotiate with the vendors.”

Earlier this month, theater staff decided to cancel its production of Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn,” which was scheduled to start Dec. 1. “As you are likely aware, we have recently faced significant financial and organizational challenges,” theater staff wrote. “We are currently focusing our resources to ensure our commitments to youth programming are upheld. This has left us without the capacity to support a production such as the ‘Holiday Inn.’”

In a statement released on Oct. 24, Zephyr officials explained that the theater was hit hard by COVID. Projections of sponsorships and donations were not coming in as planned while expenses continued to increase, they explained.

“The theatre was doing too much at the same time, juggling too many balls and expecting a lot from the staff and volunteers,” according to the statement. “In hindsight the right thing to do would have been to cancel or postpone some productions and programs, layoff employees, and do a better job at forecasting our expenses; but that was not done. It is clear now that mistakes were made, and we take full responsibility for that. We can and will do better.”

Nicole Bartelt, who took over as board chairwoman in mid-October, said the change in leadership reflected the board’s “seriousness of our commitment to righting the Theatre’s operations and finance. We have been making substantial progress in those efforts, but reaching our goal will require the support of our entire community.”

google news
Previous article‘Power Ranger’ Jason David Frank dead at 49 — RT Games & Culture
Next articleIsraeli woman sues Secret Service agent for alleged July assault in Israel ahead of Biden visit