Chaska, Minnesota’s business district was sagging and in need of some revitalization. One idea to help bring some energy back to the area was to build new commercial buildings that would complement the adjacent business district and renovate two community parks, separated by a body of water called a clayhole. Up until the 1950s, the 15-acre Firemen’s Park parcel was the site of a clay mining business that annually produced millions of Chaska clay bricks which were shipped, via the railroad and the Minnesota River, for building construction primarily in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas. After the brick industry shut down, the land was donated to the city of Chaska by Charles and Christian Klein to be used as a park.
In 2013, in the initial stage of a one-year planning process, the Chaska Parks and Recreation Department engaged residents in determining what would best help build community. The involvement of the Chaska Volunteer Fire Department, the Chaska Historical Society and the Chaska Downtown Business Alliance was also central to this effort. The Chaska Park Board was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the $24 million public building process and to make a recommendation to the Chaska City Council about what should be included in the public park space. Numerous Chaska residents participated in the meetings hosted by the architectural firms, 292 Design Group and LHB, to get ideas about what individuals felt were important. A significant number of residents wanted the community project to put a high value on renovating what had always been part of the park, including the playgrounds, swimming beach, archery facilities and shelters, while also adding new leisure opportunities, including boardwalks, bridges, a stage for performances, a concession stand, play fountain, landscaping and volunteer firemen recognition pieces.
Chaska’s city government already had an entrepreneurial reputation, a result of being instrumental in the building of one of the first, modern community centers in the state of Minnesota in 1990 followed by the Chaska Town Course in 1997. So, what would attract thousands of visitors from all age groups to the older downtown area for 12 months out of the year? Curling was a casual suggestion made early on in the process by park and recreation staff. As the park project goals and objectives were adopted, the thought of curling became more of a possibility, and with two restaurants showing an interest in being part of the curling movement, it received even more serious consideration.
The new six-sheet, state-of-the-art curling facility opened in Chaska in December 2015. Some viewed it as a risky venture, but, today, the curling center has almost 1,200 members after having forecasted 180 for the first year! It has received acclaim as an example that curling can be an additional and successful park and recreation department offering. Chaska’s 24,000 residents as well as the southwest metro area have embraced the new recreational activity with the majority of curling visitors being first-time players. Learn to curl classes, junior curling and corporate team-building curling have all been well-received, as have curling leagues held every weekday evening and Sundays. Chaska is the site of the fourth curling component in the metropolitan area with another 20 curling clubs existing mostly in northern Minnesota.
The 200-seat Crooked Pint Restaurant has glass window views of all six curling sheets as well as patio seating for 70 that opens up to the park and the Chaska Clayhole water area. A 300-seat event center for large community gatherings and special events is part of the same building and is already being recognized as the best in the southwest metro area. Both the event center and the Crooked Pint Ale House have exceeded expectations.
Firemen’s Park stands today as a shining example of how an older park can embrace its historic character while also providing new play opportunities for all ages. Assistant Park and Recreation Director, Kathy Skinner, noted: “My favorite part of the park is that all ages can visit and enjoy what the park has to offer, including swimming, picnicking, walking, fishing, archery, band concerts and our play fountain all at no cost.” Skinner added that the curling, restaurant and event center do an outstanding job of complementing the park while also serving the adjacent business district. The opportunity for the Chaska community to come together to see what it helped to build, and to socialize and celebrate what parks and recreation can contribute in helping to build community, has been an outstanding venture for all.
Tom Redmanis Director of the Chaska Parks and Recreation Department.