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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Work starts on Blaine's curling center

After several years of discussions, curling enthusiasts scored an eight-ender as Blaine city officials and the owners of Fogerty Arena broke ground on what will be only the second year-round curling center in the nation.

The $3.7 million center will be run by the privately owned arena, but it is located on public land. That meant the Blaine City Council had to approve a permit and extend the arena's lease on the property in Aquatore Park for another 30 years.
No public money will go toward construction of the 28,000-square-foot center, officials said. However, the city may have to invest up to $300,000 to move one of the park's baseball diamonds, which will make room for construction adjacent to the existing arena. Plans are for the arena to contribute to that cost. Fogerty officials are negotiating with two groups on naming rights.
Blaine already has a high sports profile as home to the multi-use National Sports Center and the Tournament Players Club golf course, and city officials say the curling operation will enhance that image.

"It fits in nicely," said Public Service Director Bob Therres. "The council members were excited. It was a new activity, and it was something that, as it was pitched to them, was something for the whole family, from youth to the elderly. ... It's a growing sport, and we're going to bring people to Blaine."
The arena plans to kick off a membership campaign in the next couple of weeks, said Fogerty General Manager Mark Clasen. The organization expects to draw about 400 members in its first year, and reach its 800 membership capacity in about four years, he said. Dozens of people already have had their names entered into a database for memberships.

In addition, the club has received a letter of intent from the U.S. Curling Association, which plans to use the six-lane center for elite training.

Plans also include handicap-accessible lanes to attract curlers training for the Paralympic Games, which has adopted wheelchair curling as a medal sport.

Clasen said the arena hopes to reach out locally to high school and college teams, to corporate organizations looking for team-building events and to individuals hoping to try something new.
Outlets elsewhere

Minnesota curlers do have outlets in the state. Although the other year-round club is in Green Bay, Wis., there are seasonal curling clubs in Cambridge, Duluth, Alexandria and elsewhere. The venerable -- and over-capacity -- St. Paul Curling Club has given its blessing and support to the new club, Clasen said; already, there are discussions about interclub competition.

"They've really helped us along and they're really behind this project," Clasen said.

The new facility will have an indoor/outdoor lounge with bar and restaurant service and views of the curling sheet. Clasen said that although he can't yet reveal the proposed lounge operator, it's likely to be "a well-known local establishment."

The curling center also will benefit the arena's skaters and hockey players, he said.
One of the reasons arena operators are building it now -- in addition to low interest rates and construction prices -- is that the 30-year-old refrigeration system and floor of the old south rink are nearing the end of their operational life, Clasen said.

Arena officials expect that the new liquid-ammonia refrigeration system will cool both the curling sheet and the south rink at no additional cost, he said. Both skating rinks will continue to operate as usual; the south rink floor will be replaced next year.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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