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Safety concerns may prevent Culver City ice rink from reopening

The Culver City Ice Arena, which closed earlier this month after losing its lease, might reopen after the rock-climbing company that had planned to take over the space revealed last week that it would not.

But City Manager John Nachbar said the city and the rink employees would first have to resolve many issues, including whether the facility's refrigeration system was safe.

The unexpected news of Planet Granite's lease cancellation was a relief to the Takahashi family, longtime employees of the rink who hope to operate it for at least six months.

"We would love to announce we're going to open March 1, but we don't know that yet," said Shannon Takahashi, who manages the skating school. "We have to show the [Culver City] Fire Department that [the rink is] safe."

Mike Karagozian, a Fresno attorney who co-owns the property, said Friday that he would be happy to leave the Takahashis in charge.

"If we run that thing ourselves and keep them working … we can generate some income from the property," he said.

Karagozian said his parents had signed a lease half a century ago that was highly favorable to the skating business, owned by John Jackson. "We basically for 49 years got hardly any return," Karagozian said.

"Everybody was in an uproar about closing the rink," he added. "Now that we want to make it a rink, the City Council is coming up with all sorts of [problems]."

Nachbar said the city is "very concerned about ensuring that the ice rink .... is safe." He added that officials had concerns about potential hazards posed by the refrigeration system, which includes anhydrous ammonia, a potentially deadly gas.

"To secure a business license," Nachbar said the Takahashis "will have to meet all requirements." He said city officials were still sorting out what should be done.

The 52-year-old ice rink — where Michelle Kwan and Wayne Gretzky practiced — has been the subject of much local drama since it was disclosed last month that Jackson had lost his lease and that Planet Granite, a Bay Area company, would be establishing a climbing, fitness and yoga center.

Hockey players and parents of young skaters rallied to keep the rink, mounting protests at City Council meetings and garnering thousands of petition signatures.

Shannon Takahashi said in an interview last month that thawing the ice could pose problems for the new lessee. After concerns arose about possible environmental dangers, city officials hired a consultant to examine the property. That company concluded the system needed significant repairs.

The Takahashis then asked the opinion of Complete Thermal Services Inc., which has maintained the system for many years. The Orange County company said the system posed no immediate threat.

In a report posted late Thursday, however, the city said that William Clements, Complete Thermal's president, had told fire officials that the refrigeration system "has outlived its useful life." Clements on Friday declined to comment beyond saying that "some things I've said have been taken out of context and misquoted."

Nachbar said the city would ensure the property was secured until the situation was resolved.

martha.groves@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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