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Culver City ice rink gets new hope as rock-climbing firm cancels lease

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The Culver City Ice Arena, which closed this month after losing its lease, might reopen after the rock-climbing company that had planned to take over the space said late Thursday that it was canceling its lease.

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

The unexpected cancellation of Planet Granite's lease was a relief to the Takahashi family, longtime employees who hope to operate the rink for at least six months beginning March 1.

"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.

She said her family had "a couple of issues" with the wording of a six-month lease they had in hand. They plan to meet with a property co-owner Friday in an effort to resolve the differences and to visit City Hall to seek a business license.

Nachbar said in an interview late Thursday that the city was "very concerned about ensuring that the ice rink ... is safe." He added that officials had serious concerns about the existing refrigeration system, which includes ammonia, a potentially deadly gas.

"To secure a business license," he said, "they will have to meet all requirements." He said city officials were still sorting out what would need to be done.

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

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

Shannon Takahashi said in an interview shortly before the rink closed that the thawing of the ice could pose hazards.

After concerns arose about potential environmental hazards relating to the ammonia, city officials hired a consultant to examine the property. The conclusion was that the system needed significant repairs.

The Takahashis then enlisted their own consultant, Complete Thermal Services Inc., which did not agree that the system posed an imminent threat. The company has maintained the system for 30 years, according to the Takahashis.

Nachbar said the property owners had assumed the cost of keeping water and electricity running to ensure that the ice did not melt. He added that the city would also ensure that the property was secured.

James Lee, a spokesman for Planet Granite, said the company found irony in the situation.

"There is a certain irony when supporters of the rink have long contended that the potential cleanup and remediation of the property posed an insurmountable challenge for Planet Granite's eventual operation of a facility, and yet we now see the same groups passionately argue that everything is safe," he said.

"It is cold comfort for the families that happen to live adjacent to the property to find that their health and safety might have been a cause for scoring political points in the debate."

Planet Granite said it would continue to seek a Los Angeles-area location. But Lee, seeming to leave open the door to further negotiations, reiterated that the Culver City property "will always remain an ideal location for us."

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Twitter: @MarthaGroves

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