LOS ANGELES — Without some sort of miracle from above, the Culver City Ice Arena, where the Los Angeles Kings practiced for more than twenty years, starting in the mid-1970’s, is now in its final week of operation, set to close its doors for good on February 2.
Owners of the property have leased it to Planet Granite, which has announced plans to open a yoga, rock climbing and fitness center in that location.
Even though the chances of keeping the rink open are slim, at best, supporters have launched a campaign to save it, and have bombarded Planet Granite with messages protesting their plans.
“Since the announcement of the Culver City location, the Planet Granite team has received a great number of e-mails, phone calls and Facebook posts from members of the Culver City and greater L.A. skating community,” the company said in a statement posted on their blog. “We are overwhelmed by the depth of feeling within this group.”
“Being just as passionately involved in the active community, we sympathize with the loss of this local gathering place,” the statement continued. “This outpouring of support over the last week has shown us that Culver City is filled with passionate people who care deeply about this sport.”
Planet Granite’s statement went on to say that an ice rink does not appear to be financially viable in that location.
“The skating rink has immense charm, but it is in need of significant work,” Planet Granite stated. “The landlords rely on the rent to support themselves and their families. They seek a tenant for their building who can reliably pay a fair rent and properly maintain their building.”
“Several parties have had conversations with the landlords, including the owners of the LA Kings,” the statement continued. “As Luc Robitaille, the Kings President, has been quoted, this was ‘a break even proposition,’ at best. Given all the resources of an NHL team, this further calls into question the success and future of an ice rink in this location.”
Planet Granite was apparently referring to a story by LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, in which Robitaille was quoted:
We tried in 2009 [to lease the property], and we failed, but I remember telling the owner at the time, “just make sure it stays a rink.” This time, we tried again. We went above and beyond. Our expectation was to spend over a million and a half dollars in refurbishing it. The lease went way above where we were really not trying to make money on the deal. We think it’s a break even proposition, plus investing a million and a half, so we feel we got as far as we could go, and apparently, they got a better lease from someone else.
Rosen’s story went on to say that the Kings plans were to renovate the rink and operate it in similar fashion to what they are doing at the LA Kings Valley Ice Center in the San Fernando Valley.
“The team’s plans for the rink were similar to those that helped re-brand the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City, the LA Kings Valley Ice Center, earlier this decade,” Rosen reported. “The club hoped to be involved in the ownership and marketing of the facility and to completely renovate the inside of the facility and the ice surface.”
Given the Kings’ success with the LA Kings Valley Ice Center, and what they had planned for the Culver City Ice Arena, it appears that Planet Granite took Robitaille’s comment out of context in order to fit their claim that an ice rink was not viable at that location.
Frozen Royalty attempted to contact Robitaille for comment shortly after Planet Granite released their statement, but with the January 25 Stadium Series: Los Angeles game at Dodger Stadium on the immediate horizon, he was not available for comment on this subject. However, Mike Altieri, the Kings’ Vice President, Communications and Broadcasting, and their official spokesperson, spoke to Frozen Royalty about the situation, even though he declined to respond specifically to Planet Granite’s statement.
Altieri stressed that the Kings and their owner, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), have one, overarching goal for operating ice rinks in the area: growing the game of hockey—profit is secondary.
“I don’t want to say that we’re not looking at [their ice rink operations] to make profit,” he said. “We have a long-term philosophy for ice rinks, especially here in the Southland, that we’re trying to grow so that we can continue to grow the game [of hockey]. In our long-term philosophy, if run properly, [an ice rink at the location] could turn into a good business venture for us.”
With the poor condition of the Culver City Ice Arena, Altieri pointed out that any profit from the facility would not come right away. But that did not deter them.
“In the beginning with Culver City, I don’t think that could happen quickly because our plan was to invest in the rink, to take over operation of the rink, and then invest in refurbishing it,” said Altieri. “That investment was going to be significant, which would not allow us to make money out of the gate, and we understood that.”
“Significant dollars were going to be invested in changing the cosmetics of the rink and how it was set up,” added Altieri.
As mentioned earlier, the Kings/AEG were prepared to invest more than $1.5 million to renovate the facility.
“Our plan, and our goal, was to keep the rink there, in an area of the marketplace where a rink could thrive, because there’s a lot of traffic, and a lot of people who’ve utilized that rink,” Altieri noted. “Then, we would provide newer, and potentially better programs to attract more people to come out, get involved, enjoy the game of hockey, and continue to grow the game.”
“In the end, the idea is just to grow the game, and we feel that rinks are an important part of that,” Altieri added. “We do feel the demand is there, and that also comes from growing the game, and putting together programs that create the demand.”
An example of how that works is the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, the Kings’ practice facility, where youth hockey and figure skating are thriving.
“A good example would be in El Segundo, where we had two sheets of ice,” said Altieri. “We added a third sheet of ice, and it’s sold out every day, all three. That’s evidence to us that it could work [in Culver City] with the right programs in place. You’ve got to have the programming that’s attractive, and that’s built around teaching kids from the ground up to play the game from the very beginning.”
“You have to have vibrant programs that attract young families and kids to get involved and want to learn the game,” added Altieri. “We do that through having effective programs, and but also by having those programs led by credible instructors, former NHL players—people who’ve been implementing successful programs for years.”
“Our formula works, and we feel that applying that same formula to Culver City, had we been given the opportunity to do so, would’ve been successful. It would’ve taken some time, but it would’ve been successful.”
Planet Granite officials did not respond to a request for comment.
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