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Open Letter To Culver City City Council on Culver City Ice Arena

The following is an open letter that was sent to members of the City Council, City of Culver City (this one was addressed to the Mayor), regarding the property where the Culver City Ice Arena operated (the former practice home of the Los Angeles Kings; they closed on February 2). A new lessee, Planet Granite, wants to build a rock climbing, yoga and fitness center in that location.

As a long-time resident of Culver City, California, I felt compelled to let the City Council here know that a new, state-of-the-art ice rink in that location, and everything that comes with it, is what’s best for Culver City.

UPDATED: February 20, 2014. Now includes video of public comment period during City Council meeting, City of Culver City, February 10, 2014, when supporters of the Culver City Ice Arena addressed the City Council, including Los Angeles Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans, and yours truly.


The landmark sign outside the Culver City Ice Arena.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net

Honorable Jeffrey Cooper
Mayor, City of Culver City
9770 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2703

Dear Mayor Cooper:

As you are aware, the Culver City Ice Arena has ceased operations, with a new lessee, Planet Granite, expected to takeover the property with the purpose of building a yoga, rock climbing and fitness center.

As you must also be aware, City staff has discovered a zoning variance granted to the owners of the property that dictates that an ice rink is the only approved business that can be operated at that site. If I am reading the document correctly, the existence of this variance indicates that for the property to be used for any other purpose, another zoning variance would have to be granted, or the property would have to be re-zoned.

As a resident of Culver City now going on 46 years, someone who has watched this city both evolve and struggle in many ways over the years, I am firmly convinced that approving any zoning variance or a re-zone to allow Planet Granite, or any business other than an ice rink, to operate at the site of the Culver City Ice Arena would be a blunder of epic proportions by our City Council.

Planet Granite, along with the current owner of the property, have claimed that an ice rink is not feasible at the site, economically, or otherwise.

All that does is prove that they really don’t know anything about youth hockey, and its explosive growth in Southern California.

Here in Culver City, we have a strong Little League baseball program, which I was a product of in the 1970’s. Indeed, I remember playing up on the hill at Ron Smith Field, where Bill Botts Park is now. We also have a thriving AYSO soccer program. But unlike so many of our surrounding communities, we do not have a strong youth hockey program in Culver City. But before you start thinking that the demand isn’t present in our city, guess again. In fact, Culver City has missed the boat for decades, not only in providing another important option for children and families to participate in sports, recreation, character building, and all the other positives that come out of team competition, but also in terms of the economic benefits to our city that would come with a strong youth hockey program.

Through the mid 1980’s, hockey existed in California, but mostly on the periphery, even with a National Hockey League team, the Los Angeles Kings, playing at the Forum in Inglewood starting in 1967. Hockey, at all levels, was not even a blip on a radar screen. But all that started to change in 1988, when the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player to ever play the game. Not only did he sell out the Forum every night, but he also inspired children and families in this area to start playing hockey.

Within just five years of Gretzky’s arrival in Southern California, the NHL placed an expansion team in Anaheim, and with two NHL teams in Southern California, all of a sudden, ice rinks, which had been disappearing from the area, suddenly began popping up in several locations throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and even the Inland Empire.

Today, hockey in Southern California is exploding in popularity at all levels, but especially in youth hockey. That fact became even clearer when the NHL came to Los Angeles to play one of their six outdoor games this season at Dodger Stadium on January 25, 2014.

To illustrate, let me quote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman:

“When you look at hockey in Southern California, it works. Hockey [in Southern California], at all levels, has never been stronger. We’re here because if you look at USA Hockey’s [governs amateur hockey at all levels in the United States] figures, the State of California has the seventh-highest number of people playing hockey in the country, and registration is at an all-time high.”

“Hockey is very strong in Southern California, on all levels. [The Ducks’] youth program—high school teams—doubled from 14 [teams] to 28. There is a great fan base for the teams, and the fact is, more people are playing hockey than ever before in Southern California. There’s a tremendous amount of interest here.”

In fact, youth hockey has grown so strong in Southern California that legitimate NHL prospects, even first-round draft choices, are coming out of our area, something that would have been totally unheard of not all that long ago.

“In 2010, at Staples Center, we had the draft, and two California-born players, [Pittsburgh Penguins right wing] Beau Bennett, and Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem, were claimed in the first round—two players from Southern California in the first round of the NHL Draft,” said Bettman. “In the USA Hockey Prospects All-American Game [last September], twelve states will be represented on the rosters of the teams, and only three states, Minnesota, New York and Michigan, will have more players than California, so I don’t think California is a non-traditional hockey market. It has a very rich tradition.”

The last ten years, hockey has really exploded here,” said Ducks superstar Teemu Selanne. “The Kings and Ducks have done a great job to make hockey bigger here.”

Sadly, Culver City has missed out on this explosive growth of youth hockey, along with all the benefits that go with it, primarily due to the poor condition of the Culver City Ice Arena.

To be sure, after checking the web sites of the Southern California Hockey Association (SCAHA) and California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), no teams from Culver City are participating in their leagues. Why? Because the Culver City Ice Arena simply could not support teams that could play in these leagues—all they could do was offer smaller, in-house leagues. In fact, those wishing to play in such leagues must go to other rinks in the surrounding area, all of which not only have the necessarily facilities and amenities, but they are all busy, even on weekdays, with pick-up hockey and figure skating. But on weekends, they are usually packed to the rafters with hockey players participating in tournaments, with teams coming in from other areas, not just from Southern California—the demand for ice time and more rinks has exploded right along with the growth of youth hockey.

What this makes quite clear is that if another lessee were to come in, tear the guts out of the Culver City Ice Arena, rebuild it from scratch, and add a second ice sheet to the facility (state-of-the-art rinks have at least two sheets; the Toyota Sports Center in EL Segundo has three), our city would now be able to support multiple youth hockey teams, ones that could travel, and could compete at the SCAHA/CAHA level. They would be able to host tournaments, bringing in players and families, not just from Culver City, but from across Southern California, throughout California, and even from across the country and Canada.

With that kind of facility here in Culver City, a large number of youth hockey players and their families would flock to the new rink. For many, especially those in Culver City, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Venice, Playa Del Rey, and other surrounding communities, the Culver City rink would not only bring them in, but so many youth hockey players who live in this area have been forced to play at other facilities—they would certainly make the switch to Culver City.

As I mentioned earlier, Culver City is missing the boat in a big way, in terms of youth hockey. But not only have we failed to provide a youth sports program that should be on the same level as Little League baseball and AYSO soccer here in our city, but imagine a big youth hockey tournament at a new Culver City rink. Hundreds of children and their families would be there. A hockey player might need new skates, goalie pads, or a hockey stick. Eventually, kids and their families will get hungry, and will want to eat at a nearby restaurant. Maybe a player sprained a wrist and needs a brace or support. A trip to a nearby drug store would suddenly be on the schedule. If a family with a player on a visiting team drives in from Valencia (they have SCAHA/CAHA teams at their local rink) they might need to fill up the tank with gas for the trip home.

Merchants and restaurant owners in the area would clearly benefit from having a state-of-the-art ice rink in that Sepulveda Boulevard location, not to mention that it would generate much-needed sales and business tax revenues for our City.

Mayor Cooper, as I stated earlier, 2014 will be the 46th year that I’ve lived in Culver City. I grew up here. I’m a product of Culver City schools, from pre-school through high school. I played pick-up basketball in every Culver City park that had a basketball court. I also grew up skating at the Culver City rink on weekends, and I watched the Los Angeles Kings practice there many times until they moved to a brand new facility in 1994. I have fond memories of growing up in Culver City, and one of those memories is the rink. But the sentimental value of the place is not why I am urging you to do whatever you can to bring our city a new ice rink to the existing location of the Culver City Ice Arena. Rather, it is evident that the benefits to our city’s youth and their families, and to the city as a whole, would be off the charts.

Since I just mentioned families again, another key point is that an ice rink, especially since you’re dealing with youth hockey and figure skating, primarily, would attract families, mostly. What would a rock climbing, yoga and fitness center attract? Mostly individuals, not families, and most notably, not children. It seems to me that, from a purely economic standpoint, families would spend more money on an annual basis in our city as a result of being at the rink, as opposed to an individual climbing a rock wall, or working out.

Looking at the issue from another perspective, for years, Culver City, through its shortsightedness, refused to allow commercial development that would attract entertainment and good restaurants to the Downtown area so that our city would finally, after so many decades, have some kind of nightlife, and so that we wouldn’t have to go to other cities to find a good place to eat. Indeed, when you look at Downtown Culver City now, it’s a huge success, and has become a destination in demand for people across the Los Angeles area, and beyond.

But Downtown Culver City, while it represents a tremendous success, given what it has become, also represents a gross failure, in that it took so long for city leaders to comprehend the need for that kind of development in our city’s core.

I’m not saying that a new Culver City ice rink would gain the kind of fame or have the impact that Downtown Culver City has. However, it represents a similar mistake in that it had been a missed opportunity for so many years.

As you probably know, the Los Angeles Kings, who operate several highly successful ice rinks in the area, are anxiously waiting in the wings. I have spoken with Kings officials who have told me that, should they get the opportunity to do so, they are committed to refurbishing the facility, upgrading it to today’s standards, and to putting solid, high-quality programs in place that would attract figure skaters and hockey players to the rink in droves. Given their stellar track record, those huge hockey tournaments I mentioned earlier would be taking place at the rink before you know it.

Given all that, let’s not make the same mistake as what happened with Downtown Culver City when we have such a golden opportunity to make a tremendous, positive impact on our community, especially for children and their families. Again, I urge you to do whatever it takes to bring our city a new, state-of-the-art ice rink. It is the right thing to do for Culver City, and the surrounding community.

VIDEO: City Council Meeting, City of Culver City, February 10, 2014: Public Comments on Culver City Ice Arena

 

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7 Responses to Open Letter To Culver City City Council on Culver City Ice Arena

  1. MC says:

    I’m curious what exactly the Kings plans are for the ~1.5 million they say they will commit to refurbishing the rink. While it’s a nice sum of money, I wonder if it that would actually cover the costs of digging out the ice and putting in a proper foundation and new ice-making plant, or it that money would be used just to remodel other areas of the rink and leaving the ice the way it is (not great!). I can’t imagine it would cover the cost of adding an additional rink, either. Without an additional rink could the facility be used for traveling youth hockey like this letter implies?

  2. Very well written, Gann. Good job of not under or overstating that you’re a constituent of the City, too.

  3. G. Andrick says:

    So well said from a long-time Culver City resident. It will be tragic that the zoning variance for the ice rink only is somehow considered no longer valid or the property is allowed to revert back to its original zoning after a dark period. Our city council members should do everything it can to retain the ice rink variance zoning that was clearly supported by the parents of the current property owner. There would be an economic benefit if this site stayed a rink with improvements by AEG / Kings if they were able to negotiate a lease with the property owner given the interest for hockey and figure skating. A rock climbing yoga gym on this site will not serve the families of this community as well as an ice rink. The decommissioning of the closed rink and any efforts to rezone by Planet Granite and property owner should be held to the strictest legal review as possible by the city. The actions of the city council and the mayor on the ice rink will be among the most meaningful they make in their term given the depth of public sentiment, which is grounded not only in its preservation as a community activity center but also as an economic benefit to the city if its potential is fully realized. We need our city council to do everything in its power to keep the rink zoning.

  4. DS says:

    Very well said. This new article is very telling. Is Culver City now the new Mayberry. Thanks.

    http://www.thefrontpageonline.com/articles1-14174/AttnCityHallWhatHappenedtoUrgentCleanupWhereIsIt

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