Blaine curling concept clears huge council hurdle

by Tim Hennagir
Life Editor

Plans for a state-of-the-art curling facility attached to Fogerty Arena took a huge step forward during a Blaine City Council workshop.

This schematic Aquatore Park map shows the location of a $3.2 million curling center that’s been proposed by the Fogerty Arena Board of Directors. Blaine City Council members met with Fogerty representatives Jan. 5 to discuss the idea.

Arena Manager Mark Clasen, Fogerty Board of Directors members and curling supporters attended the Jan. 5 meeting, with Clasen taking the lead.

After almost an hour of discussion, city leaders were convinced a $3.2 million curling center attached to Fogerty Arena’s south rink would be worthy of support.

Councilmembers agreed that Aquatore Park Field No. 1 should be taken out of commission this summer so the curling project’s April or early May construction plan could remain on track.

The council directed city staff to start working with Fogerty Arena representatives on a development schedule and project application process.

Proposed curling facility plans would be appear before the Blaine Planning Commission and the Blaine Park Board soon, perhaps within a 90-day window.

The city would also work with Fogerty Arena representatives to hammer out financial details that would need to be resolved before the project could move forward, namely possible use of the city’s bonding authority or curling user fees.

Field replacement issue

“A lot of you have asked how are we going to pay for the field that needs to vacated,” Clasen said, referring a $196,000 estimate prepared by Jim Kappelhoff, park and recreation director.

That figure was featured in a report that described Field No. 1’s possible removal and overall effect on city recreation programs.

Clasen contended Fogerty Arena has already made a historical financial contribution to the Blaine and area hockey community by providing ice time that costs less than other communities.

“Since our inception, we have operated at a much lower hourly rate,” Clasen said. “On average, we’re about $30 to $40 an hour cheaper than other ice arenas around in the Twin Cities. That saves our families $75,000 to $100,000 a year in the cost of their kids’ hockey at Fogerty Arena.”

Fogerty opened in 1982. Its board of directors is a nine-member volunteer group that oversees management and operation of the arena, which is located at 9250 Lincoln St. N.E.

Four of its directors represent Blaine Youth Hockey and two represent Spring Lake Park Youth Hockey, one represents Blaine, another Anoka County and another is a director-at-large.

Councilmember Dave Clark is the city council’s Fogerty board representative and has supported the curling facility project.

Other city ice examples

Clasen said the Bloomington Ice Garden owes the city $400,000 that’s been borrowed from the city’s park contingency fund.

St. Louis Park has spent more than $8 million on its ice arenas in the past 30 years and Brooklyn Park just spent $5.8 million to do a renovation of its two sheets.

And Coon Rapids just spent $11 million on its new facility, Clasen said.

“We believe we’ve already paid for this to some degree,” he said.

Curling popularity rise

According to Clasen, curling is a sport for all ages. Anywhere there is a curling club, there’s a senior club membership.

Curling is fast becoming a sport in which senior men and women can participate and participation by people with disabilities has grown as fast or faster than general memberships in USA Curling, he said.

“Why us? We know ice, we know refrigeration, we know recreation. It’s a natural fit for us,” Clasen told city leaders during his workshop presentation.

“We don’t need any more hockey rinks in the city of Blaine. But this is something that would really take off. It would be a huge piece of what Blaine offers for recreation.”

Facility, plant details

According to Clasen, a key physical plant component of the proposed Fogerty Curling Club will be a state-of-the-art industrial ammonia refrigeration system that will chill the new floor in the curling facility and the floor in the existing arena that’s 30 years old.

“The floor in that arena is beginning to fail,” Clasen said. “We’ve patched leaks in the tubing over the last several years and it spreads like cancer. Once it starts, it gets worse. It needs to be replaced and renovated.”

Clasen said the Fogerty curling facility would have six curling sheets, but the arena’s hockey rinks could be converted for curling, yielding a 16-sheet facility.

Food and beverage service in the curling facility will allow Fogerty Arena to expand its offerings for current customers and future curling customers, players and fans, who will visit for tournaments, Clasen said.

The proposed restaurant in the curling building will serve liquor, he said.

“That’s an amenity that’s very common in Canada,” he said. “The facility will cost $2.1 million. The refrigeration system, at $1.16 million, takes care of our renovation needs and we are prepared to invest $500,000 of our capital.

Right now, interest rates are low enough so it would make sense to roll the North Rink bonds into the new bonding,” he said.

Council commentary

Councilmember Dick Swanson asked how quickly Aquatore Field No. 1 could be replaced. Kappelhoff said it would take a year to relocate the field.

“May, June and July are our highest use periods,” he said. “If we lose Aquatore No. 1, we would push users from that field to No. 2, and we would have to overflow that to Airport Park fields one through four. We really don’t run into a lot of problems building a new field until we go to the west. That’s where the peat is 15 feet to 17 feet deep.”

Field location ideas

Kappelhoff suggested Field No. 1 be relocated to another area of Aquatore Park where the peat is a foot-and-a-half in depth.

Mayor Tom Ryan said the city’s current negotiations with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) for Airport Park field use were a related issue.

“That certainly could change the picture,” Ryan said. “When we get that settled, would there be room for a fourth field there?”

Kappelhoff said there wasn’t room.

Councilmember Wes Hovland asked Kappelhoff about the cost of soil corrections and replacing two of the fields.

According to Kappelhoff, that would cost about $450,000.

Councilmember Russ Herbst said the foot-and-a-half of peat that’s currently estimated at the proposed field relocation site wouldn’t pose that much of problem.

“Where will you put the kids when the Aquatore field is overbooked for a month?” he asked.

Kappelhoff said that Blaine might ask surrounding communities such as Fridley or Spring Lake Park if the city could use their fields. “I think there’s some give and take,” he said. “We’ve been pretty good at seeking out those fields.”

Councilmember Katherine Kolb said that any proposed field change needed to be considered for its overall effect on Aquatore Park’s future development.

“And, who’s going to pay for this?” she asked. “If we are paying for this, it’s a lot of constituents we have to worry about. Will we jeopardize future park plans for the entire city to move fields around? I love curling, by the way. It isn’t a need, it’s a want.”

Kolb was worried about the potential impact of the curling center’s restaurant on other businesses.

“I have mixed emotions about the financing for this. They aren’t a business,” Kolb said. “They are a non-profit. How many jobs come with it?”

Center a positive draw?

Swanson said construction of a curling center at Aquatore Park would be a positive economic addition to the city and it would pay for itself over time.

The Fogerty Curling Club would be a year-round facility and that it would draw because other facilities shut down during summer months because it’s too hard to maintain an ice surface because of weather, according to Clark.

“There’s a unique, competitive advantage that this site is going to have versus other facilities,” Clark said.

Clasen said the project would bring the added economic benefit of additional jobs for the five or six months of construction and full- and part-time positions.

“People who come into Blaine for curling competitions will take full advantage of other restaurants as well, because we can’t serve them all,” he said.

Support begins to show

Swanson said he would only support the project if the Aquatore Park field was replaced and he would like to see two replacement fields at Aquatore.

Hovland agreed with Swanson. He asked about field use at the park.

Kappelhoff said the park’s fields were used mainly by adults for softball and youth football.

“I would like for us to move forward with this and explore putting more fields in,” Hovland said. “The biggest hurdle is going to be the financing part of things.”

Herbst said the city should stick to a single-field replacement because of the peat and soil depth as well as cost so the Fogerty Board could move ahead.

Cost considerations

“How can you help us offset the cost? That’s the deal,” Herbst asked Clasen. “I think you should get going on this expansion. It would be great city asset.”

Arneson said he’s spoken with Clasen about a possible curling user fee that would kick in during the curling project’s fourth year of financial projections.

“That could be a $3 or $5 fee for curling users only,” Arneson said. “That would be one payment mechanism that we could look at after they have cash flow.”

Councilmember Mike Bourke added his support to the project. It would help foster Blaine’s state and national reputation as a sports destination, he said.

“I agree with Russ,” Bourke said. “We have to get this project going. We should bring all of the user groups together to make this become a reality.”

Ryan agreed.

What’s ahead?

Clark said he wanted to direct city staff to work with the Fogerty Board of Directors to initiate the overall development process and move the project forward.

“I’d also like staff to come back with a financing plan for replacing the field,” he said. “It may need to be part of plans we have for other fields on the east side.”

Clark was referring to the council’s continued discussion of a large athletic complex near Lexington Avenue, an agenda item that was scheduled for workshop discussion Jan. 12.

Swanson asked City Finance Director Joe Huss if the city could help with the project by providing conduit bonds, a financing tool that was used for the Herb Brooks Training Center at the Schwan Super Rink and a National Sports Center sports expo hall that’s currently under construction next to the Schwan Center.

Kolb still had reservations about the proposed curling center’s impact on Aquatore Park.

“This is an old, beautiful park that’s used for Blaine’s Blazin’ Festival,” she said.

She wanted to make sure the city had clear vision for the park while addressing the future needs of the Mary Ann Young Senior Center across the street, according to Kolb.

“I’ve been working in this park for 30 years,” Clasen said. “The people on the council at the time told me they were going to finish developing this park. It’s still not finished.”

Council’s concurrence

Arneson asked Kappelhoff when he needed to know if Aquatore Field No. 1 would be available for use during the coming season.

“Do you need council direction tonight stating that field won’t be in play during 2012?” Arneson asked?

Kappelhoff said yes.

Clark then suggested that the council direct Kappelhoff to make plans for that eventuality and start notifying Aquatore Park users.

“You need to work your magic,” he told Kappelhoff, referring to scheduling and moving Aquatore Park Field No. 1 users to other fields in Blaine or elsewhere.

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]