CC-ice-arena

Culver Ice Arena is due to close on February 2nd, because the current operator cannot pay an almost doubled rent.

But there has been such a public outcry at the loss of the rink that the Culver City Council has looked into ways to save it and this week staffers unearthed a document that might affect the transition. The document – a Use Variance granted in 1960 – reveals that the new lessees, Planet Granite, will be required to apply for a zoning change in order to use the site for the purpose it wants (rock climbing, fitness and yoga). This would involve going before the Planning Commission, the City Council and undergoing an environmental review under CEQA.

City Manager John Nachbar told DnA this involves a significant discretionary approval process. It is one that some city insiders say might further complicate  a process already thorny due to the intensity of public support for the rink. But when asked if this might mean the rink might be saved, Nachbar said, “I’m always very careful not to predict the future.”

Read the following for more on why the rink’s closure has caused such an outcry and the status of efforts to save it.

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When owners of the land on which the Culver Ice Arena sits raised the rent and found a new lessee, it looked to many as if this was a done deal, a sad loss for skaters but an inevitable consequence of changing real estate values on the Westside.

As it turned out, past and present users were not ready to lose their rink and have mounted a campaign that has brought such pressure to bear on council members that deeper investigation has produced a possible stalling of the process.

According to Councilman Micheal O’Leary, around 20,000 people have participated in a grassroots campaign of petitions, handwritten letters, presentations at meetings and social networking. O’Leary says he has never experienced anything in his time of service that reached this level of public engagement (a fight over declawing cats apparently came the nearest.)

Why Do People Care?

This arena is, as Culver City resident Cary Anderson told DnA, “an icon. .  a building and a business,” and part of the heritage and fabric of Culver City.

To some it holds memories of past experiences there, and pride in its storied history of use by famous skaters like Tai Babilonia, Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan and Wayne Gretzky. To others, it’s a remaining source of identity with Culver City as so many others identifiable places disappear — from Ships Coffee Shop to a drive-in movie theater and a bowling alley.

To many, it is also a vital amenity, right now. Thousands of people use the rink each week, ice-skaters and hockey players, amateurs and professionals, male and female, young and old of every ethnicity and economic level, and residents of Culver City and surrounding cities.

Crowd lined up for ice rinkEven more importantly in terms of its role as social glue, it is located near three public schools and serves kids from each.

Finally, while it is not an exceptional midcentury building, architecturally it is a charming “time capsule” (Anderson’s words) from the early 1960s, with its sparkly marquee, Sweetheart of the Ice statue (above) and unchanged, wide-span structure.

While some deem the place rundown (and certainly many rink experts believe it needs a costly upgrade) it is also the lack of change that gives the place its character. One blogger called it the “real-est” place on the West Side.

In all these ways, the arena has forged a tight bond with its community near and far.

Now the rink is closing because the landowner is doubling the rent and has signed a new lease with Planet Granite, a rock climbing and fitness center with three locations in the Bay Area. This is a company that also touts its strong connections with the “community” (explained by CEO Renee DeAngelis, shown below in action, on this DnA).

reneeAnd in an effort to reach out to supporters of the rink, Planet Granite’s PR James Lee took the stage at a City Council meeting held this past Monday.

In front of rows of people bearing pro-rink tees or placards in a standing room-only crowd, he gave a 20-minute presentation in which he reiterated the company’s commitment to moving ahead with their plans to decommission the rink following closure this weekend, and to take over the lease in June. He acknowledged the community’s anguish but asked what could they do “besides save the rink?”

“Saving the rink” is exactly what people were hoping they would do, even as everyone understands that this is a private deal and that “saving the rink” involves great costs that were not in the PG business plan (but might, many ask, surely produce great dividends, through creating a unique rock-plus-rink facility that could attract every member of a family).

Culver City Council meetingCouncilman Micheal O’Leary, who has been pursuing a variety of avenues to save the rink, told DnA that he came to the meeting Monday hoping that Planet Granite would pull off “the greatest PR coup in history, by announcing they would save the rink and win over 20,000 people and the city council.”

Instead, he says he was troubled to find that Planet Granite stuck to their guns, with “platitudes” about community and no offer of any plan that might help sustain the current one.

An 11th Hour Reprieve?

The clock is ticking down to the rink’s closure this weekend but Councilman O’Leary believes that there is still hope and the new finding by the city just may give reason for a change of course.

Having been directed by the city council to evaluate information relating to the proposed change of use from rink to rock climbing facility, city staff dug deep and found the document dating back to 1960; today they issued a press release stating that discretionary approvals for a zoning change will be required by Planite Granite. The company would have to determine if it wants to seek such approval, a process that might be complicated by the intensity of public support for the rink.

Here is City Manager John Nachbar’s statement:

“The City of Culver City has been evaluating information relating to the proposed change of use by Planet Granite of the Culver City Ice Arena.  At the urging of the City Council, city staff continued its comprehensive, top to bottom records search regarding the Culver City Ice Arena property.  As a result of the effort, late Monday evening the search disclosed the original document in an archival file that authorized the current use of the property for an ice rink and parking.   

That document is a Use Variance granted in 1960, which permitted the ice rink and related parking to extend onto residentially zoned property.    The Use Variance is expressly limited to the ice rink use, and does not allow other commercial uses, without further City approvals. 

Therefore, given Planet Granite’s plans to utilize the existing ice rink building and surface parking for a new use, a discretionary approval process would be required.  Specifically, a zone change would be needed in order to accommodate the proposed use.   A zone change would require review and recommendation by the Planning Commission and ultimate approval by the City Council at a public hearing.  Since the zone change is a discretionary approval, it is also subject to environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Beware of Wishful Thinking

This process, including the CEQA review, could take a minimum of six months. If it were to deter Planet Granite from pursuing their project on this site, city sources say this does not necessarily mean the current operator would be able to stay, especially as this operator appears committed to closing this weekend. But it could open doors for another rink operator to step in. It has been reported that the L.A. Kings were the second bidder on the new lease.

A city insider adds that unless a last minute financial benefactor of ice skating steps in that is able to work with the landowner and Planet Granite for a temporary ice skating use until the zoning gets sorted out, it does not look like there will be ice skating after Sunday and urges people against “wishful thinking.”

Meanwhile some other strategies to save the rink have been pursued:

CC Ice Rink, Final Day Sign1) Historic designation. This would designate the building a historic landmark and while it would not preserve the current use of the building, just its shell, it would mean that new users would have to do their buildout within the existing structure.

2) Site sharing. Supporters are asking that Planet Granite share the site or to somehow accommodate the rink into their offerings. At the Council meeting Monday night, Sol Blumenfeld, community development director for Culver City, laid out the logistical and financial challenges to this concept, mainly having to do with parking.

If combined, the facilities would need many more parking spaces than would be available on the site, so a parking structure would have to be built, costing millions dollars, a prohibitive amount for both Planet Granite and the City. Still, some councilmembers are still looking into the viability of this option. DeAngelis of Planet Granite told DnA they had looked into this option but found it was not financially viable.

Blumenfeld remarked that when Culver City had a redevelopment agency it might have been possible for the city to provide public support, a point also made by Councilman Andrew Weissman on DnA. The redevelopment agency was closed down three years ago along with other redevelopment agencies statewide.

What Next? 

The rink is scheduled to close on Feb 2 and then Planet Granite is expected to perform soil tests. After February 15, it is scheduled to embark on decommissioning the rink. Rink supporters had floated the notion that soil tests might unearth environmental hazards, resulting from melting down ice that is full of chemicals.

Experts in rink construction, and the Culver City fire department, say however that this is unlikely to be a problem if the arena is decommissioned according to standard practice. The City announced today the steps it is taking to ensure the public health and safety when the ice rink closes.

But the new findings may stall the process. When asked if arena supporters might hope their rink will be saved, City Manager John Nachbar said simply, “I’m always very careful not to predict the future.”

Why the Culver Ice Arena Matters

In the New York Times today Michael Kimmelman wrote a fascinating analysis of a McDonalds in Queens, New York, that has pitted elderly Korean customers against management that says the seniors are spending too long there hanging out with their friends. Kimmelman explored how this Mickey D’s eatery happens to be located in a place that neatly serves an aging population that cannot travel far and is simply in need of a comfy spot to sit and chat with friends.

What he is talking about more broadly is our physical environment and how it makes, or breaks, community bonds.

It is for these reasons that the Culver Ice Arena matters. In its 50 years it has become source of community strength in Culver City. It has withstood changes in technology and society over the last five decades that have affected how people use their leisure time and form communities. Such bonds are fragile, sometimes irreplaceable, and, as one DnA listener wrote me, one breaks them at one’s peril.

Lots of people on ice

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  • redqueeninila

    Thank you for this full report! It feels like later than the 11th hour, but maybe, just maybe…..? Fingers Crossed Skaters!

  • Micheál O’Leary

    This rink is too important to the fabric of Culver City. It cannot fail, and together it will not fail.

  • Andy P

    What would it cost to buy it from the landowner? Sell memberships, sponsorships, etc. Maybe eminent domain?

    • Nadine Lewis

      It is not for sale. Should the city council fail to approve a variance it will simply force the land owner to open the discussions back up with the kings or another group who wants to run a rink. Section 3.03.230 of the Munipal Code gives the city council that power.

  • PrivateProperty

    The city should subsidize he excess rent. Problem solved. It’s private property, not a “public amenity.” If culver city wants to supply an ice rink to its residents, they should plan for it and build one.

    • Walter Lamb

      If you read the article, it is about more than having a rink. It is about this historical landmark and the community it hosts. I have my qualms with the rink, such as the boards and showers, etc. But it has grit and character. When I walk in, I feel like I am transported back to the Metro District Commission (MDC) rinks in Boston that I skated in as a kid. So I disagree.

  • grace

    no one is interested..it is too costly…spoken to rink owners..they all said it would cost way to much to renovate culver rink. Its too late…they all waited too long..now scrambling for help…. not good

  • sendit

    i know its sad watching this go, but why not create new memories with an AMAZING sport? I am an avid climber and am excited to know one of the world’s best gyms companies will be building something around west LA. I had my first ice skating session at the culver nearly 25 years ago and have fond memories but times change. You really want the city to subsifize rent costs just for nostalgia’s sake? The money is needed in other areas.

    Rock climbing is a great activity for friends and family of ALL ages, shapes and sizes. The learning curve is low and the accessibility is great. Give it a chance.

    • LAMan

      Will do. I’ll try Rockreation at 11866 La Grange. Thanks for the suggestion.

      • climberchick

        go to rockreation and then check out planet granite when/if it opens. you’ll see the difference immediately and recognize how great it’ll be for the community

    • helenofpeel

      How many Olympic Rock Climbers do you know? How many children will be served compared to the numbers now at the Ice Arena?
      You sound like PR folks for Planet Granet.

    • IceMan

      I have a sneak suspicion that “sendit” is a nom de plume for Planet Granite PR flack James Lee. Because what better to replace a venerable institution like Culver Ice Arena than a pre-fab rock-climbing gym that will likely have the shelf life of, oh, six months.

    • Helene J

      I have no doubt climbing is a great sport for some people, like skating is for others. That is beside the point. Culver City Ice Rink can not go anywhere else but PG can find a different location, like an old furniture store or a space in the industrial area of Culver City, any other space a where they would be welcome and where we embrace them and their business

    • mercenarygrip

      Look at where you live. You don’t need some fake rocks inside a warehouse to climb, there are countless areas to climb outside in the sunshine around here. Not to mention, if you do want to do your climbing inside in a controlled environment, that service is already offered by others in the area. What we don’t have in the area, is another place for young people to hone their skills as figure skaters or hockey players. That is an activity that you cannot do outside in Southern California. The children who are interested in pursuing those activities, do not have the options that people wanting to climb rocks have.

    • Matt Lawton

      This is a pg PR person writing this. Go to rockreation in Santa Monica. Don’t support a company that doesn’t care about the community they’re entering. This is like ripping down Musso and Franks to build a Quiznos.

  • helenofpeel

    Who is this greedy landlord? Doesn’t he realize that Planet Granet will likely fail without 2 – 3 years. It’s hard enough to maintain a rock climbing business during good economic times.

    • Dominick Gavin

      2 or 3 years is optimistic. More like one year. That location itself is not prime, has no traffic and is a dead zone at night. Only culver ice can survive there.

  • Krisby

    Some of my fondest memories of my youth were made at Culver Ice Rink. I hope there is a way to save it…It IS a vital resource to all of Culver City and surrounding areas.

  • Walter Lamb

    I can pretty much guarantee that a full CEQA process will not be completed in six months and I can pretty much guarantee that a full CEQA process, meaning an Environmental Impact Report, rather than just a Mitigated Negative Declaration, would be required here. I’ve been up to my neck studying CEQA as part of a project to keep the Annenberg Foundation from building a 46,000 sq ft structure in the protected Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and have read through hundreds of legal cases in my research.

    The land owner would taking a huge risk by allowing the rink to be demolished based only on hoping that he gets a zoning change.

    Surely this new information triggers some sort of escape clause for PG from the lease, as it obviously wasn’t disclosed to them at the time of signing. They should take the out. Then we should patch things up with the landowner, and remind him that while the Kings offer wasn’t the best offer, it was still a good offer that provides a much larger and much more reliable income stream that what he had. The city should consider what reasonable incentives could be provided.

    The rink just needs a little bit of investment and better marketing to be more economically viable.

    Walter Lamb
    Culver City

  • CCresident

    Yes, the Culver City Ice rink is a landmark and has provided a communal atmosphere that is healthy for everyone of all ages; the rink has been there my whole life and I am saddened to see it close because i have fond memories of the rink. IN the end, this is a free market that we live in. The rink is unable to pay the rent that the land owner is asking and Planet Granite is willing to pay the price because just like the skating community, the climbing community is just as dedicated and committed to its sport. There has been a huge public outcry about the closing from those that have fond memories, but at the same time they must realize that though the ice rink is closing, in its place, Planet Granite will be a great addition which will also provide just as many fond memories. PG is providing a climbing gym/yoga facility that is healthy for everyone of all ages and is also communal at its core, it will bring in income to the nearby businesses and provide CC residents with a new place to bring their children, have birthday parties and participate in the sport that is both healthy and enjoyable.

  • Pingback: More Twists for Culver Ice Arena: Planet Granite Pulls Out of Lease, But Old Ice Declared Unsafe | Design & Architecture

  • Walter Lamb

    Totally inappropriate comment and almost certainly not from a rink supporter. Would not be surprised based on posts on other forums if a PG supporter posted this comment to make the skating community look bad.

  • mercenarygrip

    You sir are an ignorant troll. No one wants to hear from you, simply because you obviously have NOTHING constructive to add to this conversation. Get out of your mom’s spare room, take a shower, and go get a job.

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