Past Olympians, public officials and business leaders will help break ground on a new curling arena this afternoon in Blaine.
The roughly $4-million addition to the city's Fogerty Arena is expected to help meet demand for year-round ice, as popularity in the sport rises. Curlers say membership at the St. Paul Curling Club is nearly double the suggested capacity for a facility of its size.
Elite athletes like John Benton, who was part of the 2010 United States' men's Olympic curling team, hope they can one day use the Blaine center for training. Benton is aiming to make the Olympics in 2014.
"It's well-known that the Midwest is a curling hotbed," he said. "A lot of our best curlers come from the Midwest. Quite frankly, it's difficult to get practice ice, especially in the Twin Cities area."
Benton, of St. Michael, also says a national championship event is a possibility for the facility, because the the two hockey sheets already there can be converted temporarilly for curling, creating a large enough venue for competition. Blaine would have to go through a bidding processing to host a national championsip or Olympic trials, but it could host a pretty large major event," he said.
As part of the project, the nonprofit-operated arena is also building a new refrigeration system that will cool the rink floor in the curling facility and in the existing 30-year-old arena, said manager Mark Clasen.
The project is privately funded. It is slated to open in the fall.