HeartStop Lounge will be social hub of Hearts

STEVE GREEN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

On this day, it sits empty, all 33,000 square feet of it.

On Feb. 24, however, the main ballroom at the London Convention Centre will become the HeartStop Lounge -- the life of the 10-day party that is the Scott Tournament of Hearts.

No major curling event can succeed without a vibrant social hub and Kerry Lackie, host committee vice-chairperson for HeartStop Lounge, said this one will be no different.

"Part of what happens at national curling events is that such an energy and flow runs through the entire event," she said. "And until you've experienced it, you can't even explain it to people. The event becomes its own community with its own pulse moving from one venue to the other.

"By the second day, you get groups repeatedly showing up in the same area of the lounge, making it 'their spot.' "

There will be seating for about 2,200 and Lackie, naturally, wants to see it full, especially at night for the live entertainment -- the Feb. 24 opening party being open to the general public, the rest of the week for ticket-holders and other accredited people.

"It's a big room, right, so it would be like that dream of walking into a room naked," she quipped when asked if she had any fears. "But we really are planning on packing the place. It's got to be part of a positive experience. Both venues have to handle their ends successfully for people to get that 'wow' experience."

By the numbers, it seems a daunting operation:

- One main stage for the entertainment.

- Four large-screen TVs to show the action from the John Labatt Centre.

- Four bars.

- One main concession area inside the lounge and another in the foyer outside.

That's why Lackie can't say enough about having the experience of the convention centre staff, who are no strangers to feeding large crowds.

Sales and marketing director Robert Giorgini said the HeartStop Lounge will be the convention centre's largest undertaking in duration and, by the end of it, people served.

"Catering to large groups is what we do best, but this is still a little different in some areas," he said. "One is the uncertainty of the timetable. We know people are going to be coming in, but there'll be a lot of transitional traffic. They're not all coming at once and sitting down to eat.

"So trying to pinpoint when people are going to show up, when they'll want to eat and what they'll want to eat will be a key."

Feeding the hungry falls to head chef Dave Van Eldik, who will have six cooks and two additional event staff.

He said there will be enough food at the outset for 1,500 people a day -- including about 1,000 pizzas and 2,000 burgers and hotdogs. Lunch and dinner specials will be available daily.

"The biggest challenge is not knowing if 500 people are going to show up, or 1,500," Van Eldik said. "But our job is to make sure people get what they want and get it as quickly as possible."

Assistant catering manager Rebecca Dodd said her biggest challenge has been "just trying to pull everything together. We've had to talk to a lot of people on the various committees."

"You can't put a price level on them, they've been totally invaluable," Lackie said. "I've relied on their guidance so much, as well as (event co-ordinator) Gord (McNabb).

"He's been terrific at saying, 'Yes, that'll work,' or, 'Well, we tried that before and this is what happened.'

"And I really feel very confident in the directors I have in various positions and their abilities in those positions," Lackie said of Brent Clarke (facilities), Dave Bowden (servers and bartenders) and Jack Phillips (banking).

For the first time, the HeartStop Lounge is not next to the playing venue. Instead, buses will ferry curling fans to and from the JLC.

Lackie doesn't expect that to be a hindrance.

"Curlers are such a laid-back group of people. They just like to have a good time and never take themselves seriously," she said.

Still, there is the pressure of making sure those good times are had by all.

AUTOGRAPH SESSIONS

At the HeartStop Lounge

Feb. 26: Ontario and Territories, 1:30-2:30 p.m.; P.E.I., 6-7 p.m.

Feb. 27: Alberta, 1-2 p.m.; New Brunswick, 6-7 p.m.

Feb. 28: Manitoba and Newfoundland-Labrador, 1-2 p.m.; Nova Scotia, 6-7 p.m.

March 1: B.C., 1-2 p.m.; Quebec, 6-7 p.m.

March 2: Team Canada, 12-1 p.m.; Saskatchewan, 6-7 p.m.

March 3: Olympic women's team, 6-7 p.m.

ENTERTAINMENT GUIDE

Where: HeartStop Lounge, London Convention Centre

Admission: Feb. 24 opening party is open to the general public for $15 at www.ticketmaster.ca; from Feb. 25 to March 5, admission is limited to those with game tickets or other accreditation.

Schedule

Feb. 24: Boyce Wilson, 9-10 p.m.; Doc Walker, 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.

Feb. 25: Midlife Crisis, 5:45-7 p.m.; Shania Twin, 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.

Feb. 26, 27: BOB-FM video dance party, 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.

Feb. 28: Scott Idol finals, 11 p.m.-1 a.m.

March 1: Mason Dixon Band, 10:45 p.m.-1 a.m.

March 2: Shelly Rastin Band, 11 p.m.-1 a.m.

March 3: The Carpet Frogs with guest Randy Bachman, 11 p.m. -1 a.m.

March 4: Midlife Crisis, 5-7 p.m.; Crystal Gage, 7:30-10 p.m.; Roy Leblanc Elvis band, 10 p.m.-1 a.m.


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