The last cattle farm in Savage may soon turn into the largest year-round curling center in the United States — a $15 million multipurpose facility with six sheets of ice, a restaurant, food hall and a recreation area for adults.
Prior Lake-based developer Copper Creek is proposing a 55,000-square-foot facility called the Crossings at the busiest intersection in Savage, where it would replace a 15-acre farm that raised beef cattle until several months ago.
Plans are still preliminary, but the developer hopes the city will chip in funding to offset the cost of running a major ice facility.
Savage isn’t the only place where suburban curling-center plans are taking shape. Curlers in the east metro want to build one in Stillwater, joining other suburban curling spaces in Blaine, Chaska and Lakeville. Jim Honsvall, treasurer of the St. Croix Curling Center, a club that plays in an Afton-area arena, said his 200-member organization is talking with Stillwater city officials about working together on a facility.
Savage City Administrator Brad Larson said the Crossings project poses several financial questions. City officials said they are waiting on a feasibility study before they commit.
“Where’s the market on this? Are we starting to see an oversaturation, or not even close?” asked City Council Member Christine Kelly.
Still, Larson said, “It would be a unique recreational opportunity that the city likely wouldn’t undertake on its own.”
Local curling enthusiasts say there’s more than enough demand for additional ice as more people try curling, a social sport that appeals to all ages. Teams slide a large granite stone down a sheet of ice to a target, using brooms to create friction and direct the stone.
The Twin Cities has become a curling hub, with four dedicated facilities built over the last decade. Kelli Ellingson, second vice president of the Minnesota Curling Association, said “the southern part of the Twin Cities is overflowing with people who want to curl.”
John Benton, director of operations for the Four Seasons Curling Club at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, hinted that there may be even more metro area curling facilities in the works.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg for curling,” he said. “People don’t leave the sport once they start.”
No more cows
Copper Creek has a purchase agreement on the Loftus farm in central Savage, an area with a patchwork of suburban stores and services. It has been owned by the same family for more than 100 years.
Ray Loftus’ Irish ancestors began piecing together the acreage in 1855, amassing 600 acres by 1900. But in 1980, the city assessed the property $400,000 to $500,000 for sewer and water updates, signaling the beginning of the end, Loftus said. Soon, development encroached and his parents began selling off parcels.
“It just got too expensive to hold onto,” he said. “Everybody [in the family] is anxious to have something done with it.”
The family has been trying since 2005 to sell the last chunk of land. Plans to build a chocolate factory and showroom there fell through a few years ago, Loftus said, but they are excited to sell to Copper Creek — contingent on the project moving forward — because of the novelty of curling.
The parcel poses development challenges because it’s triangular and includes a water tower and numerous wetlands, one of which is protected. President Mike Stout of Tamarack Consulting Group, which was hired to market the Savage project, said Copper Creek found a way to make it work by incorporating trails and wetlands into the proposal, leaving room for several commercial building as well as the curling center.
City officials this month agreed to sell a piece of the water tower parcel to Copper Creek for $1, which would be used for parking. And Larson said the city is looking into providing a tax break to developers, despite the concerns of some council members about a financial commitment. He said the Crossings concept fits with the council’s goal to make Savage a “unique destination.”
“It will be sad not to have the cows there on the corner anymore,” Kelly said. But she added that it’s the right time for the property to be developed.
‘A really big draw’
Stout said the Crossings would be similar to the Chaska Curling Center, open year-round with an adjacent pub and event center. It would build on Chaska’s success, considered by many the best curling center in the U.S., he said, while creating “something larger, more dynamic.”
The Chaska center, a city-owned facility, was built in 2016 and continues to draw visitors. Membership numbers are holding steady at about 1,040, said manager Jeff Isaacson, a former Olympic curler. Operation costs are covered by Chaska’s enterprise fund, he said: “The city didn’t build this facility to necessarily be a moneymaker.”
Whenever a new curling club opens, Isaacson said, there’s worry that it will poach members from other clubs. That hasn’t happened, he said.
“I don’t view it as a competition,” he said. “We want to work together with all the facilities.”
The Crossings would offer a members-only entrance and give spectators the chance to watch curling matches from above. It would be designed to hold national and worldwide competitions, and adaptable for non-ice events. “This thing’s just going to be a really big draw for Twin Cities residents,” Stout said.
Honsvall said the St. Croix Curling Center is talking with Stillwater city officials about building a facility near the St. Croix Valley recreation center. St. Croix members now curl on Sundays at the St. Marys Point Ice Arena near Afton, a facility that was built with hockey and figure skating in mind. A new center would fill a curling void that exists between St. Paul, Rice Lake and Eau Claire, Wis., he said.
Stillwater is “interested, but we have yet to work out a structure,” Honsvall said. Like Isaacson, he believes there’s demand enough for curling facilities in both Savage and Stillwater.
“We need 800 members to make it work,” Honsvall said. “We’re just thinking, if Chaska and Blaine can do it, why can’t we?”