A world-class curling center would be the crown jewel of an entertainment and recreation hub a developer wants to build on Savage’s last cow farm.
Copper Creek, a Prior Lake-based developer, plans to transform the iconic Loftus farm into an ice complex with six lanes for curling and other entertainment amenities.
The plans presented to city officials in June also included restaurants, bocce ball, an event space, office buildings and an automotive service shop.
The development, called Copper Creek Crossings, will be a “polished, sophisticated, casual, elegant setting for people to come and play,” said Mike Stout, a consultant on the project with Tamarack Consulting Group.
"We are bringing the best of the Twin Cities right here to the center of Savage," he said.
For the curling portion of the project, the developer is seeking a financial partnership with the city of Savage, Stout told the City Council at a work session in June.
City officials requested money from the developer to pay for an economic and market feasibility study to be conducted by the city’s financial consultant, BakerTilly, as they mull the possibility of offering tax abatement or another form of assistance.
City Administrator Brad Larson said this week the developer will be finalizing design plans before the financial study begins and there is no tentative date the plans will be reviewed again by the council.
Once submitted, the plans will go before the Economic Development Commission, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Commission and Planning Commission before reaching the council for final approval.
Greg Schweich, president and chief executive officer of Copper Creek, said Wednesday they are working on making the plans "even better," but the designs still center around a curling center.
The curling craze
There are 29 curling clubs statewide with 8 locations in the Twin Cities metro area, according to the state-operated travel site Explore Minnesota. In 2010, there was just one in the metro area, the historic St. Paul Curling Club.
As new clubs opened doors nearby in recent years, the St. Paul Curling Club's memberships didn't decline, demonstrating a revival in the sport, MinnPost reported in 2016.
The Chaska Curling and Event Center, which opened in 2015, attracted the U.S. Olympic curling teams and more memberships than city officials originally projected.
Stout told city officials curling would also be a success in Savage, adding the development would support significant economic activity and “quickly establish itself as a treasured community amenity.”
In addition to curling, the plans include a small-to-mid-sized events center for adults 21 and older.
Stout said other south metro entertainment spots, such as Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Canterbury Park, are suited for large events, leading south metro residents to take their smaller-scale gatherings north of the river.
He added families and residents will also be drawn to a non-gambling enterprise.
"Copper Creek Crossings is inspired by its location and its surroundings and by the culture and spirit of the community," he said.
Two restaurants are also proposed for the site, and dining will blend with the recreational amenities similarly to Pinstripes in Edina, Stout said. The company is also looking to maximize enjoyment of the property's existing wetlands with trails, additional ponds and "park-like" outdoor spaces.
Officials weigh benefits, financial support
Across Minnesota, indoor ice complexes aren't usually run by for-profit enterprises because of the high cost to build and maintain the facilities, Larson said.
Larson said Life Time Fitness in Savage is an example of a successful public partnership with a private enterprise. In 1999, the voters passed a referendum to allow the city to bond for $3.1 million to purchase land to be leased back to the fitness center.
City officials discussed a tax abatement to lessen the ongoing debt load to operate the ice facility. Once property taxes are paid, the city would redirect a portion back to the development through an abatement levy, meaning the city essentially loses out on collecting some of the developed property's higher taxes.
“I have a lot of interest in this facility. I don’t know if I have a deep pocket for this facility,” Councilmember Bob Coughlen said at the June meeting.
Councilmember Christine Kelly expressed concern the event center might take away business from the city-owned Environmental Learning Center and also wondered about the draw of curling.
“That’s fantastic for Chaska, but who is to say that’s going to happen here?” she said.
From a public policy perspective, Larson said it could be an opportunity to provide residents a unique, recreational amenity.
Councilmember Gene Abbott recommended the financial study and said more detail would be needed to evaluate the financial risk and benefit.
The last piece of the Loftus farm
The 15-acre hobby farm on the northwest corner of county roads 42 and 27 is all that remains of a once 600-acre farm owned by the Loftus family dating back to the early 1800s.
Ray Loftus told the Savage Pacer in May 2018 he was ready to let go of the property, but challenges presented by the site's wetlands had bogged down the sale with previously interested developers.
Stout declined to comment on whether or not there is a purchase agreement in place, and Loftus directed an interview request to the developer.
A packet given to city officials by Copper Creek about the project describes the aging barn and the lasting change development will bring to the community.
"It is inevitable and a sign of the times," the packet states. "The question on everyone's mind is, what will replace it? Will it be a multi-family residential complex, a strip mall with its ever changing name plates, or perhaps a manufacturing plant with regional offices. Whatever the development, it will forever change the landscape and shape how Savage will be viewed and accepted."
For now, cattle graze and geese congregate on the water as cars pass by, just as they have for over 100 years.