Curling club eyes Saco industrial park
SACO — A curling club is interested in opening a facility at Spring Hill Road, and while city councilors seemed intrigued by the prospect, some raised concerns with a non-profit moving into the business park.
David Florig, president of the nonprofit Pine Tree Curling Club, recently approached the city with the interest of locating the club at 29 Spring Hill Road, in the Spring Hill business park.
“Curling is a sport of precision – it demands that a team deliver a granite curling stone weighing 42 pounds across more than 130 feet of ice to come to rest in a very specific location, where mere inches often make the difference between victory and defeat,” said Florig in a letter to the city.
There is currently only one curling club in the state located in Belfast, and Florig and other local curling enthusiasts would like to bring a facility to Southern Maine. Florig said in his letter that the property at 29 Spring Hill Road would fit the club’s needs, and has the required space, layout, parking, utilities and amenities.
Florig brought the proposal to the city’s economic development commission, which gave it a favorable review. The proposal went to the city council for an initial review on Monday.
Because the curling club is a not- for-profit organization, and nonprofits are prohibited by business park covenants, the club would need special approval by the city council to be allowed to operate at 29 Spring Hill Road.
Councilor Marshall Archer asked Monday night if city staff had any concerns regarding a non-profit operating in the business park.
“We’ve had some issues in the last couple of years related to that,” he said.
In 2019, the city thwarted the school department’s attempt to move its Pre-K program to 5 Willey Road in the Spring Hill business park, stating that business park covenants did not allow public schools to operate in that location. Last year, the city, the school department and the owner of 5 Willey Road settled out of court in an agreement to allow the school department a five-year lease of 5 Willey Road, where the city’s Pre-K is now located.
Jessa Berna, economic development specialist, said she believed the club could operate in the business park should it come to the City Council and get prior approval.
Archer said he was still gathering information about the proposal, but he said based on data on the Belfast club, he thought the curling club could be a good investment to the local economy.
The club is a volunteer-driven organization. It currently has no paid employees, though that could change as the club grows, said Florig. The proposed facility would be used by club members, but would also be open to the public for classes. It would also host multiple two to seven day curling tournaments, or bonspiels, a year which would bring people in from all over the northeast as well as Canada.
“Members of those teams come to our club to curl, but also need lodging, food, drink, shopping, and entertainment. Those people would be spending money in Saco as they visited for the bonspiel,” said Florig.
Floring said the club’s plan is to enter a seven to ten year lease on the property with a renewal option. Though the club is a non-profit, the property would still generate property tax income for the city, as the curling club would be renting the property, and the current owner would still own the property.
“While I will agree the use sounds fun and intriguing, I think you still have that question – ‘What was the intent of the covenants,” said Councilor Nathan Johnston.
Johnston said he was a strong supporter of the covenants and what they stood for, and the city was only supposed to break them in the case of exceptional circumstances. He said while he thought the Pine Tree Curling Club would be a welcome addition to the city, there were better locations in the city than Spring Hill Road. He said he thought it would be unfair to allow the club in the Spring Hill park, as other non-profits had inquired about moving into one of the city’s business parks and were refused upfront.
Councilor Michael Burman said he liked the idea of the curling club, but he shared Johnston’s concerns regarding it potentially locating in the business park. He said he would like to get more information to determine why this proposal would be considered while proposals for other non-profits in the business park had not.
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