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Council Notes – Culver City Ice Arena Prepares to Skate Away

The Mike Balkman Council Chambers were filled to capacity on Jan. 13 with many people standing along the walls and crowding the foyer in the back, hundreds of people having turned out to address the most important item not on the agenda – the impending closure of the Culver City Ice Arena.

Cary Anderson offered his thoughts, saying “The reason we have the car show is because hot-rodding started in Culver City, at Piccadilly’s – and Piccadilly’s is not here anymore. The bowling alley is not here any more- The Rollerdome – that’s not here any more.” Holding Julie Lugo Cerra’s book on the history of the city, Anderson continued, “Would it be better if we closed Tito’s Tacos and replaced it with Taco Bell? Would it be better if we closed the Culver Hotel and replaced it with Motel 6? This is about our culture, and our identity, but we are also going to have to accept that the rink is going to fade into the past.”

City Manager John Nachbar, almost succeeding in keeping a tone of desperation out of his voice, reminded the crowd, “This is private property. They [Mike A. Karagozian, the owner of the property on which the rink is situated] have entered into a new lease with Planet Granite. There is virtually nothing that the city can do to keep this as an ice rink.”

“While the idea of the city buying the property to keep it as an ice rink has been discussed,” Nachbar continued, “The city is no fiscal position to be able to accomplish that. Questions have arisen about the historical designation of the ice rink but that does not control the use of the site, the historic designation would only signify the building itself, so granting historic designation would not insure it to continue as an ice rink.”

While addressing the huge and passionate crowd who were there to persuade the city to help, Nachbar concluded, “I have done my best to present to everyone the limits of this elected body.”

Two- time Olympian skating star Tai Babalonia came to the podium with her memories of the rink. “I called it my frozen playground. I remember when my coach insisted I hold Randy’s hand and skate around the ring, and I did not want to hold Randy’s hand, but we have been holding hands and skating around for 45 years now. Those big kids in the stands, Peggy Fleming, Richard Wilson, they were my idols. Think of the up- and- coming ice skaters and hockey players who are not going to have their rink anymore.”

Another speaker, dressed in full hockey uniform, brought up the fact that melting the ice would release more than water. Ethylene and ammonia, which are used in the refrigeration system that keep s the ice hard, might cause a toxicity problem when decommissioned.

Shannon Takahashi delivered two large binders of petition signatures to City Clerk Martin Cole saying “This is how many people really care about this.”

Many speakers pointed out that the folks who come here to skate also come here to eat and shop, and do all the things that parents need to do while their children are at skating lessons, adding sales tax to the city’s coffers and support the local businesses.

Gary Kemp, one of the skating instructors at the rink offered that “All this is happening because the landlord wants more money, so maybe we could have a rock climbing wall in the back, and keep the rink, that could double their income.”

Kevin Klowden suggested going back to the Los Angeles Kings hockey team for a long-term lease as a possible solution. Using the example of El Toro airbase in Orange County and their challenges transforming into parkland because of all the jet fuel in the ground, he agreed that the ammonia in the compressors keeping the ice cold maybe enough of an environmental hazard to prevent Planet Granite from opening.

After an hour of comments, it was time for the council to address that matter.

Council member Mehaul O’Leary proposed to agendize a discussion about potential issues. “I’m worried about the potential of the new tenant not needing the compressors. Once the compressors shut down, that’s when we may have problems The current tenant has offered to keep the compressors going [until Feb 15, after ending the lease on Feb. 2] If it stays frozen, we don’t have issues, but it’s when it thaws, we may have problems.”

Nachbar offered that the city’s job “is to be to ensure that we do everything possible to assure that public health and safety is maintained.”

O’Leary noted, “The rink has created a sense of place, and this is a quality of life issue.”

Vice Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, looking as deeply distressed as any of the skaters, said  “It’s pretty heartbreaking to sit up here and admit we don’t have the powers you think we have when it comes to what we can and can’t do. I’d like more discussion about historic designation – and environmental review – this is not get your hopes up. If we had magical powers, we’d be a lot more popular than we are today. It’s heartbreaking to say we just can’t do it, we can’t buy this property.”

Council member Jim Clarke stated “I want to support looking at the environmental issues on this – Two areas I want to focus on, and I’ m curious if we can discover what the financial impact is of the ice rink as to sales tax and such, and what Planet Granite will contribute, and the possibility of using the parking lot as the rock climbing zone.”

Council member Andy Weissman looked into the long history of the place, saying, “We began looking at preserving the ice rink four years ago, the last time the lease came up, and the fact is that the property owner has entered into a legally binding agreement with a new tenant. Any changes will be based on the fact that these parties need to be willing to amend their agreement. As the vice mayor said, we don’t want to give anyone false hopes.”

“This is a community that has always adapted,“ he said, “and as much as we would like to preserve the ice rink, there’s not a lot we are going to be able to do here.”

Mayor Jeff Cooper looked grim. “There is a real sense of sadness here this evening. Sitting here as an elected official, there’s not a lot I can do. I support agendizing an information item, but we have to accept our limits.”

O’Leary spoke to the audience in the room “We might not be able to do anything, but you can. I believe in the power of the people.”

Editor’s Note – Does a business want to come to a city where they are really not wanted? Let Planet Granite know that you object, and that closing the rink is not winning them fans. If 100,000 people object, they may change their mind- If 500,000 people object, odds are even better. Don’ t just sign a petition – send an email to renee@planetgranite.com

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5 Responses to “Council Notes – Culver City Ice Arena Prepares to Skate Away”

  1. Colleen says:

    Thanks so much for this summation. I myself didn’t have the full story and I appreciate being brought up to date. I very much hope something can be done to preserve the rink. Since a sale has been made and there is a new owner, on the basis of environmental concerns and likely very high costs to ‘rehab’ the facility, perhaps they could be persuaded to do that, and add to it. Maybe ‘Planet Ice & Granite’?

  2. Susan Porter says:

    My 9 year old daughter and I were there last night. Sitting there, in that room filled with crying kids and heatbroken parents, coaches, and Culver City residents…..the only ray of hope that was given came from counciman O’Leary.
    {O’Leary spoke to the audience in the room “We might not be able to do anything, but you can. I believe in the power of the people.”}

    May God grant us a miracle, a wealthy benefactor, a solution! This Ice Rink and the loving community, not to mention revenue for Culver City, that it creates will evaporate forever and be just a memory unless we work some magic to save it. I pray form the depths of my heart that The Rink can and will be saved. On the way to school this morning, my 12 year old son expressed cynicism and doubt as to the successful outcome of our efforts last night. My prayer is that we, as a city, as a community of families, as human beings will demonstrate to my son and to all of our kids that indeed the people do have the power!

  3. Jane says:

    Sent an email, for what it’s worth.

  4. Larry says:

    Can we get Mike Kargozian’s email too? Or any contact info? The only one I see is a Mike Kargozian in Fresno, an attorney, but not sure this is the same one. Only a phone number exists.

  5. Charles Rogerson says:

    I learned how to skate there on a trip with the Cub Scouts back in 1970. I also took private figure skating lessons from Canadian Champion Dan Corbett there. I grew up skating there and in Santa Monica. You lost that rink while I still lived there. I also played hockey for a season here. I also watched the Kings practice there quite a few times back when they had Butch Goring and Rogie “the Goalie” Vashon on the team. I was also able to attend the LA Kings Western Hockey School in 1972 at Culver Ice Rink. What a shame to lose such an institution if the area over a slab of granite!

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