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The countdown to the first St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Palace since 2004 starts now.

Tuesday, as King Boreas, Klondike Kate and a couple dozen construction workers and St. Paul Winter Carnival officials watched, an excavator lowered a 500-pound cornerstone block of ice into place, starting construction of what is to be a seven-story ice palace in Rice Park.

By the time the carnival opens Jan. 25th, officials say 5,000 blocks weighing a combined 3.5 million pounds will be in place, molded into a six-tower iconic image of how St. Paul handles winter — an image officials hope Super Bowl cameras broadcast worldwide again and again on the day of the big game.

“St. Paul knows how to do winter better than any other place on Earth,” said Rebecca Noecker, the City Council Member who represents downtown.

The structure will feature six towers, with two soaring up to 70 feet and flanked by four others representing the princes of the four winds in carnival lore.

Officials announced the $800,000, privately funded project two weeks ago, bowing to the overwhelming unhappiness people expressed after they announced late last year that there wasn’t enough money to do a massive Super Bowl-coordinated castle.

Since then, a number of sponsors stepped forward and officials decided they could do a smaller, but still glitzy, palace. To help pay for it, they are tapping into public sentiment by offering a chance to sponsor an ice block for $25. To sponsor an ice block, go to wintercarnival.com. Officials say they’ve raised more than $600,000 of their budget.

“This is about the people of St. Paul saying ‘We’re going to do this thing,’ ” said Dan Stoltz, chairman of the committee to create the ice palace.

To make its two-week deadline, hundreds of volunteers from Park Construction, the St. Paul Building Trades and others will start working around the clock at the palace site on the south end of the park. The blocks, cut from Green Lake in Spicer, Minn., are 44 inches long by 22 inches wide and 18 inches to 22 inches thick.

Workers will cut, shave and stack them, much like bricks, using ice melt and snow between the blocks to help fuse them together.

The carnival will kick off with the Moon Glow Pedestrian Parade, beginning at 5:15 p.m., on Jan. 25. The parade will start at the Securian Building at 401 Robert St. and end in Rice Park, where the palace, bathed in multicolor lights, an ice sculpture garden, stages for live music and food and beverage trucks will await.

James Walsh • 651-925-5041