The beloved Culver Ice Arena is closing because it cannot afford a new market rent.
This show explores the fight to save the rink, and what its demise says about the changing character of Los Angeles, as buildings – and land values – rise and rise. With councilmembers Micheal O’Leary and Andrew Weissman, Calarts professor Norman Klein, Shannon Takahashi of Culver Ice Arena, and users and supporters of the rink. Renee DeAngelis, owner of Planet Granite, responds.
Note: The arena is scheduled to close Sunday, February 2 and after that the new leasees will perform various tests on the ground before embarking on decommissioning the rink. Rink supporters are holding out hope that this will produce findings that deter Planite Granite, though ice rinks experts argue this is unlikely. But supporters are also hoping that perhaps the new tenants and the Arena could find a way to share the site.
The Culver City council will hold its last public hearing about the rink tonight, Monday, January 27, at the Culver City Hall; Planite Granite says it “will present its response to community concerns” at the meeting (agenda here; Planet Granite spokespeople are expected to speak in the public comment period that commences near the top of the 7:00PM meeting).
Ice Rink a Casualty of Boomtime in LA
Everywhere you drive these days in LA you see change – construction of denser development and new transit lines. After a bust, the region appears to be booming again. But underneath the new construction lies a changing quality of life – and that can be seen in the fate of one building and business in Culver City: the Culver Ice Arena.
The low-key ’60s building on a wide strip of Sepulveda Boulevard, with its peppy marquee and famous fiberglass “Sweetheart of the Ice” statue, has been serving skaters young and old, amateur and professionals for 50 years.
5000 people attend each week, says skating school director Shannon Takahashi. It is, says Culver City resident Cary Anderson, an icon, both as a 60s-era building and a facility for a sport that will never go out fashion. The rink is rundown and some argue it needs a serious facelift. But that lack of sheen, and the longtime smell of the ice and sweat, is also its charm; one blogger described it as the “real-est” place on the Westside.
According to Councilman Micheal O’Leary, seen here reading folders of handwritten letters begging for help in saving the arena, it is beloved for multiple reasons: the building, the skating, the “camaraderie” of the rink. He says never seen anything like the outpouring of anger and sadness at its pending closure, and adds, “who am I to have the arrogance to close down a place that is older than me?”
But the rink has been existing on a below market rent for years and now the landowner wants full value. The rink, which is costly to maintain, cannot meet the price — almost doubled — so it has to close, on February 2nd, to be replaced by Planet Granite, a Bay area small chain of rock climbing, yoga and exercise centers. The LA Kings had bid on a lease, but came in with an offer lower than Planet Granite. The rink has become, ironically, a victim of the city’s success, says Councilman Andrew Weissman. He adds that if Culver City was facing the problems of, say, Stockton or Detroit, there would not be such a pressure on real estate prices.
Are We Seeing the End of Affordable “Semi-public” Space?”
As with the rest of the Westside, as more people move in, land values are rising, to a level where it is hard, if not impossible, to maintain the kinds of businesses — bookstores, ice rinks, bowling alleys — that were once the core of what Norman Klein, professor at Calarts and author of The History of Forgetting, calls semi-public space.
Klein says this is a phenomenon in cities across the Western world, and says that an increasingly class-based society is rendering such “semi-public” space more expensive and less democratic. He says it is up to citizens to find a way to save it.
Councilmembers make it clear they have no power to stop a private transaction between a landowner and a leasee. But in the past, says Councilman Weissman, they might have been able to intervene — and use Redevelopment Agency monies to help support the rink. That is no longer an option, he says, as they no longer have a redevelopment agency, since these agenices were shut down statewide by Governor Brown three years ago.
The Fight Continues
This time they are putting up a fight. A grassroots campaign is underway, with thousands adding their voices on social media and a letter-writing campaign, as well as presentations before the city council (as at last Monday’s meeting, shown left).
Planet Granite Responds
One of the ironies of this closure is that the company that will take over the site of the ice, Planet Granite, is also a recreational facility and according to owner and CEO Renee DeAngelis, it too is deeply embedded in the community and makes sure to reach out to a wide swath of people. The company has locations in San Francisco, Belmont and Sunnyvale, with one opening in Portland.
DnA spoke by phone with DeAngelis. She says the company is ready to pay the market rental rate — reportedly almost $70,000 per month – and to spend the time and money needed to decommission the ice rink. She also says that Planet Granite has a strong track record in community outreach and that the company “feels very sorry” for the people sad to lose their rink.
DnA asked if the company would consider ways to save the rink, such as sharing the site, a notion that has been floated by many supporters of the rink. DeAngelis says they have considered this but that both facilities would need the parking, which would mean building underground parking, and that would be prohibitively expensive to construct.
We also asked if the company was concerned that it was heading into a PR storm. As Elana Joelle Hendler wrote on Huffington Post, “if I were Planet Granite right now, I would be looking at this community tragedy from a PR perspective and recognize a tremendous opportunity to turn this situation around positively and come out the hero.”
DeAngelis said she was concerned at people’s loss and added that their goal is to serve Culver City and “we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Listen to the whole story, above, or just this Q and A with DeAngelis. And leave your thoughts with Planet Granite on this site.