LONDON, Ont. - Right now, it’s a massive empty room, save for a few stacks of chairs and tables and one potted plant.
By Friday, though, 50 volunteers and about 15 staff will convert the ballroom at the London Convention Centre into the Keith’s Patch — party central for the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier.
It’s where organizers hope up to 1,500 people will eat, drink and be sociable daily between draws at the Canadian men’s curling championship, which starts in a week at the John Labatt Centre.
The Patch made its Brier debut back in 1982 in Brandon, Man., and has grown to be synonymous with the championship.
“This is where the fun is going to happen,” host committee chair Peter Inch said Saturday during a visit to the convention centre. “You can’t just watch curling — you need a break, you need to get away. And the Patch gives you an opportunity to sit down across a table from someone from a different part of Canada. And the teams are encouraged to come back here and be a part of it.
“If you want to get the feel of the event, the feel of curling and see what curlers are really about, the Patch is what it’s all about.”
Usually, the Patch is located adjacent to the rink where the games are played. This time, like with the Scotties Tournament of Hearts here in 2006, fans will have to be shuttled back and forth.
While the Hearts was an overall success, the one mistake made was not having enough transportation between the convention centre and the JLC.
“We learned from the Scotties,” Inch said. “Then we only had eight buses and we didn’t do a very good job. This time we have 18 buses and within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving the arena, you can be upstairs getting something to eat and drink at the Patch.
“It’s so very important to have a great Patch that people can get to easily. We saw that at the Hearts — we kept hearing we’d run a terrific event except for (getting fans to and from) the lounge. If you don’t have a good Patch, no matter what happens on the ice, that’s one thing that will always hang over you.”
Those who prefer something a little quieter can head to the Purple Heart Lounge, which will occupy three adjoining salons on the convention centre’s main floor. Between 200 and 300 people can be accommodated in the Lounge, which will also hold daily autograph sessions (unless demand forces relocation to the Patch) and interview sessions after each afternoon draw between March 7 and March 11.
Patrons will be allowed to move freely between the Patch and Purple Heart Lounge with drink in hand, Inch said. Admission is a valid ticket for that day’s games, whether a single draw or full event package. And if the Patch hasn’t reached its full capacity 45 minutes after a draw, the general public will be allowed in free of charge, Inch added.
Besides improved transportation, a successful Patch needs good food. The menu (available at www.atthepatch.ca) includes hot sandwiches, hamburgers, sausage, hotdogs, salads and soups.
Inch acknowledged the bars and restaurants around the JLC will pick up some business, “but if you provide good food and get people here quickly, they’ll come here,” he said of the Patch and Purple Heart Lounge.
Inch has one fear, though.
“That we can’t fit everyone in. There are 8,500 seats (for curling) at the JLC and if all 8,500 want to come to the Patch, we’ll have a problem,” he said, smiling.
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