Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine is looking to add curling to its repertoire, with visions of an elite operation that would give the Twin Cities another outlet for a sport that's thriving in St. Paul.
When curler John Benton trained for the 2010 Winter Olympics, he didn't drive from his home in St. Michael to the 124-year-old St. Paul Curling Club, the nation's largest. He went to Green Bay and the only facility that maintains ice year-round for elite training.
That could change by October.
The Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine has been negotiating with the city to add a curling facility that could open this fall. The Fogerty staff also has had discussions with the U.S. Curling Association and the U.S. Olympic Committee about turning the new facility into a training site for elite curlers.
"It would make sense," said Benton. "Many of the elite curlers are from the Upper Midwest. With the Twin Cities being centrally located and an international hub and large media market, it would be ideal."
"Yes, we're deep in the process of adding a curling facility," said Mark Clasen, Fogerty's general manager. "Most of our engineering is done. We've got our ducks in a row."
A facility at Fogerty would have the blessings of the St. Paul Curling Club as well, said Benton, a member of the St. Paul club, which he describes as "bursting at the seams" with 1,200 members. "There's enough of a demand that we can support another facility."
Curling has been described as shuffleboard on ice. Curlers take turns sliding polished granite "rocks" across a sheet of ice less than two inches thick, aiming at a circular target within the ice. The players attempt to guide the stones by sweeping brooms that change the condition of an ice path before the stone approaches.
Fogerty's case for curling began three years ago as the St. Paul Club's waiting list grew. The demand was there, Clasen said, and so was the possibility that adding a curling sheet of ice to Fogerty could be profitable.
The escalating cost of hockey equipment would seem an obstacle for people running an ice arena often used by kids. But Clasen says that only strengthened Fogerty's argument for adding curling.
"Kids are being priced out of hockey," he said. "We were looking for a way to diversify, add new revenue streams. We kept coming back to curling."
In Canada, curling clubs next to ice arenas are common, Clasen said. In the United States, curling clubs anywhere are rare.
But the sport is huge in St. Paul, on the Iron Range and in Duluth and nearby Superior, Wis. There's also a contingent of curlers on the East Coast and growing interest on the West Coast.
"It's not just the elite curlers who are interested in this," said Tomm Berquist, a curler from Coon Rapids. "If things pan out, you'd not only attract nationally recognized curlers from St. Paul, but people from all over the Midwest who love curling."
Berquist got involved in the sport through his son, who became a junior curler in 2001. His son and the son of another curler from St. Paul, Mike Crea, started a curling club at St. John's University in Collegeville. Inspired by their sons, the two dads formed their own team.
Now Berquist has new goals. He wants to promote junior curling for the new club in Blaine. And he wants to recruit a strong group of experienced curlers to build membership for a club at Fogerty.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419