In an effort to revitalize its downtown, Chaska is banking on what might be called tourism with a twist — or at least a curl.
Officials are proposing the metro area’s fourth curling center, confident there’s enough interest in the medieval Scottish game that the riverside city once famous for its bricks might instead become known for sliding stones.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring people downtown,” said Tom Redman, director of parks and recreation.
Indeed, the metro area seems to be seeing something of a curling wave these days. The St. Paul Curling Club, which was born as an organization in 1885 and has been housed in a barnlike building on Selby Avenue since 1912, is going strong, with 1,200 members. And the last two years have seen two more metro clubs open — the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, and the Frogtown Curling Club in St. Paul’s Central neighborhood.
“We shot for 600 members at the end of our second year, and we’re already there after 18 months,” said John Benton, director of curling operations at Four Seasons Curling Club, which, as its name suggests, is the only year-round curling operation in town. A tournament there this weekend, known as a bonspiel, is expected to draw 48 teams of curlers. The Frogtown club has 300 members.
Curling always gets a boost in an Olympic year, people in the curling community say.
“It’s got an everyman appeal,” Benton said. “People watch it on TV and say, ‘I can do that.’ They’re not going to say that with luge, or ski jumping.”
Curling goes west
Chaska officials are counting on steadily rising enthusiasm. They’ve already selected an architect and construction firm for a combination curling center and bar-restaurant on former commercial property at the intersection of Hwy. 41 and County Road 61.
That’s adjacent to Firemen’s Park, where beach, playground and parking lot improvements, as well as a new promenade, are also being planned. Together, they make up one of three “catalyst sites” identified in the city’s 2010 master plan as key drivers in an effort to revitalize the downtown in the city of 24,000 people.
Including the $2.6 million the city paid to acquire the commercial space and several homes where the curling center and Green Mill/Crooked Pint restaurant might go, the entire redevelopment might cost $13 million to $15 million, said city administrator Matt Podhradsky. That would be paid for by curlers, the restaurant’s lease, a $300,000 tax levy increase, carry-over of some expiring debt and local utility fees.
City staff, along with the architect and builder, will present preliminary design and cost estimates to the Chaska park board June 23. The park board is expected to forward a recommendation to the City Council on June 30.
Curlers say a new curling center in Chaska, about 30 miles from the St. Paul Curling Club in the southwest corner of the metro area, would fill a geographical gap and possibly attract even more people to the sport.
“Before we started adding clubs, people were coming from a 45- to 60-mile radius to play,” said Mark Willmert, president of the Twin Cities Curling Association. “I have no doubt [a Chaska arena] could be a successful entity. I’ve always thought there should be something on the West Side.”