There will be a little more ice in downtown Chaska this winter. This month marks the much anticipated opening of the Chaska Event and Curling Center. While much of the hubbub has focused on curling, it is but one element of a much larger plan: “It’s approximately a $20 million city of Chaska park project,” says Tom Redman, director of Chaska parks and recreation. “One part is the building, including the curling center, the Crooked Pint Ale House and a 300- seat event center. Then there is a $7 million park renovation of Firemen’s and Schimelpfenig Park.”
The Crooked Pint Ale House, with seating for 240 and views of the surrounding park, is a central anchor for the event center, designed to host weddings and the curling club. The project also includes a performance stage, swimming beach, walking trails, Historic Walk and Firemen’s Walk. “A lot of the attention is on curling, but there are so many different, integral parts,” Redman says. “Because of the leadership at the City Council level, we were able to build community and assist in revitalizing the downtown area. What a wonderful opportunity.”
The project began in 2010 when the city of Chaska acquired two commercial businesses occupying the site, paving the way for new development. While the recession delayed their plans, the interim period allowed the city, via the park board, to elicit input on what new businesses might best serve the community while complimenting the surrounding parks. “The first thing we did is create a public process,” Redman says. “We had the Chaska Historical Society, Fire Department and Downtown Business Alliance. Those were the three primary groups we worked with as we thought all three had a vested interest in what we did at the park.”
Their collective voices and those of the public helped hone the vision for the park renovation and event center/curling structure, as did Chaska’s previous Community Center project, echoed in the large atrium entry. “With 25-foot ceilings, it’s a grand space,” Redman says of the new center. “There are five permanent display areas; one for the Historical Society, one for the Fire Department. It’s interactive, with touch screens and videos, so you can learn more about the history of the area, the fire department or curling.”
The event center was specifically designed for weddings. Amenities include garden spaces to accommodate outdoor weddings, audio/video complete with large screen, a welcome hall for groups to gather before the event, and a bridal dressing area with full-length mirrors and ample counter space for the bride and her party to do hair and makeup. “We visited a lot of places, talked to a lot of people, and asked, ‘What are the things people are looking for in a wedding?’” says Kathy Skinner, assistant director of Chaska parks and recreation.
“I don’t think you’ll find another facility like the event center in the metropolitan area,” Redman adds. “It’s certainly unique in Scott and Carver Counties and the southwest metro area. It’s truly a fantastic space.”
When the park board started the planning process, they created 15 objectives, several of which related to bringing people into the downtown area. Redman and Skinner explored the options and realized curling proved an attractive draw to prospective restaurants. “The Crooked Pint loved the idea of curling being next to the restaurant,” Redman says. “When we looked at all the objectives, curling came out quite well. It’s for all ages, for men and women, it’s year round, and brings people to Firemen’s Park and the downtown area.” Prospective weekend tournaments bringing dollars to the downtown area appealed to local businesses.
Redman and Skinner relied on their past experience with the community center project in 1990 to overcome any ambivalence with curling being part of this project. “We went through this in 1990 when building the community center,” Redman says. “It was a good experience and is a real value today. Everyone works well together and there is trust with leaders that allows you to do projects like this. Chaska has a history of being a little bit of a risk taker in doing projects that help build community.”
Curling fervor rose this past summer during River City Days. Since the curling center will be open 12 months out of the year, it bridges a gap. “There were so many people who have never curled before, who said, ‘We are so getting a curling team together, because what else is there to do in winter? So we can transition right from softball or volleyball into curling.’ It sold itself,” Skinner says.
The Park Board started researched curling several years ago, visiting the St. Paul Curling Club, the largest curling club in the nation with 1,200 members and a waiting list. With 22 centers in the state and only four in the metropolitan area, Redman and Skinner realized the southwest metro was an untapped area. To capitalize on the potential, they hired two-time Olympian Jeff Isaacson as curling center manager.
Isaacson, who competed in curling in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi, is excited to begin his new role. “I had heard about this project,” Isaacson says. “They had done their homework. The design of the building is really neat, and nice with the restaurant next door.”
Isaacson will coordinate leagues and oversee 16 teams involved in the college nationals, a bid the center is thrilled to have won. Isaacson is eager to get rookies up to speed. “I grew up in a curling club and I’m excited to give back to the game,” he says. “It’s taken me all over the world and now I get to teach people and have fun with it.”
Scott Belvitch, a 13-year veteran of the St. Paul Curling Club, is the head icemaker. He is well-versed in achieving and maintaining the unique pebbled ice necessary for curling, and is excited to see his work used. “I’m champing at the bit, actually,” Belvitch says. “I cannot wait to watch people curl, to enjoy themselves and make shots. It’s rewarding for them and in turn, for icemakers.”
(A rendering depicting the view of the new event center and curling club from the boardwalk.)