In a story with as many twists as an Olympic figure skater, the fate of the Culver Ice Arena is in the balance, again. Planet Granite, the rock climbing company expected to start decommissioning the rink this spring, has pulled out of its lease, just days after safety inspectors declared the ice unsafe.
Fans of the 52 year-old rink have protested its expected closure for weeks. For some, the loss of the amenity was emblematic of the lifestyle changes being wrought by fast pace of economic growth on the Westside.
Then came revelations two weeks ago of a 54 year-old document that stated new tenants would have to get a variance to change the building’s use, and Shannon Takahashi, director of the skating school at the rink (below left), reportedly reached an informal agreement with the landlord to keep the rink open for six months starting March 1. However, the Culver City Fire Department brought in a refrigeration expert who inspected the current ammonia-based system that keeps the ice frozen while the anticipated decommissioning process moved forward.
The inspections revealed “serious and substantial dangerous conditions” on the property, according to Councilman Andrew Weissman. He told DnA, “these conditions pose an ongoing threat to public health and safety. The elimination of the threat is the City’s only objective and steps to do so must be taken promptly. I am hopeful that the property owner will take the necessary action without undue delay in order, as we have read, for the ice arena to re-open for business. I have no doubt that if the property owner fails or refuses to do so, the City will act in the best interests of its citizens to do so itself in order to protect public safety.”
Now the ammonia in the present refrigeration system has to be evacuated and the ice removed, a process expected to start soon, thwarting the Takahashi family’s efforts to keep the rink in operation. The arena’s skating school director Shannon Takahashi expressed surprise at the news of dangerous conditions, saying the rink was regularly monitored. “We’ve had inspections every year,” Takahashi told the Culver City Observer, “But we never were told we had any problem with our system.”
Then Thursday news broke of another development: Planet Granite, the rock climbing company expected to take over the site at a substantially higher rental cost than the Arena pays, announced it had pulled out of its lease with the landowner, stating that while it was confident it could “accommodate the clean-up, disposal and remediation of the property, with the end of its lease agreement, the company relinquishes all efforts to decommission the equipment.”
It is unclear if Planet Granite’s decision was prompted by the news of the problems with the ice or the earlier revelation of the need to apply for a change-of-use, potentially an arduous process that could have been hampered by public opposition. But referring to an argument made by some rink supporters, James Lee, spokesman for Planet Granite, added: “There is a certain irony when supporters of the rink have long contended that the potential clean-up and remediation of the property posed an insurmountable challenge for Planet Granite’s eventual operation of a facility, and yet we now see the same groups passionately argue that everything is safe. It is cold comfort for the families that happen to live adjacent to the property to find that their health and safety might have been a cause for scoring political points in this debate.”
Ice rink experts have stated that the arena, already financially challenged, needs hefty investment if it is to be properly remediated and brought up to current standards. With Planet Granite out of the picture, the arena’s future now depends on a rink operator stepping forward who can handle both the maintenance and higher monthly rental costs.
But one person is buoyed by the new twist. Councilman Micheal O’Leary told DnA, “The beat goes on”. . . and added, in a play on the title of a beloved movie, “the miracle on the 54th year might actually happen.”