Sean McGillivray is giving The Tour for close to the 500th time, and the thrill just won’t go away. Nor will the numbers.
“We’re going to have the capacity to do so many things with hockey and figure skating,” McGillivray says, hopscotching his way over rolls of insulation, between metal piping and through the ever-present layers of construction dust. “There’s almost 20,000 square feet of ice, we’ll have two electric Zambonis going at the same time and there’s 1,200 pairs of new rental skates boxed up out back.”
Welcome to the Easy Street Arena in Simi Valley, thought up and brought to life by McGillivray, and the only rink in California to feature Olympic and regulation-size ice sheets under the same roof.
The arena, which is scheduled to open late next week and will have a grand unveiling sometime in November, has generated excitement among skaters throughout the region and is a dream come true for McGillivray, a transplanted Canadian.
Nearly simultaneous with the arena’s opening will be the closing of the Conejo Valley Ice Rink in Newbury Park, run by McGillivray for the past seven years. The 18-year-old Conejo Valley facility, which is used nearly 22 hours a day, leaves much to be desired. It is dark, cold and cramped, and the $300,000 annual rent is prohibitive, McGillivray said.
There will be no such difficulties in Simi Valley, where city officials were more than happy to rework zoning requirements to accommodate McGillivray.
“Everybody cries that there’s nothing for kids to do, and here’s something for them to do and have fun at the same time,” Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said. “People using the rink will see our community. There’s still a lot of people looking to get out of L.A. and they may see Simi as a place to relocate.”
The arena will cost at least $3.5 million, according to McGillivray, who said he raised the funds privately through investors in several limited partnerships. It will benefit groups and organizations from competitive figure skaters to youth hockey players to families looking for recreational opportunities. Covering approximately 80,000 square feet, the building and its two ice sheets will be enhanced by fixed seating for almost 1,000 fans, spacious locker rooms, an Italian delicatessen and a state-of-the-art ice-making system.
McGillivray said almost all of the rinks’ hours are already booked, though he added that a large number of public-skating sessions will be available. He plans to run the rink 17-19 hours a day at a rate of approximately $250 an hour.
The facility will be home ice for the Ventura Mariners, a team of 16- to 19-year-old players coached by McGillivray. The Mariners are one of six teams playing in the inaugural season of the Western States Hockey League and have 15 games scheduled at the arena. The WSHL, one of several “Junior B” leagues in the United States, also has teams in Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. McGillivray is hopeful the league will feed players to college hockey programs.
One prominent college coach, Michigan Tech University’s Bob Mancini, already is interested in both the new rink and in developing talent in Southern California. The third-year coach, whose team competes in the Western Collegiate Athletic Assn. with traditional powers such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, is planning four weeks of hockey camps next summer at the arena.
“It’s outstanding, it has everything that a first-class facility should have,” Mancini said. “There’s room to evaluate players from off the ice and the Olympic ice surface gives us a better opportunity to coach. With more ice you can have more players moving at one time.”
Skaters throughout the area are impatiently waiting to work up a head of steam on the new ice. And none are more anxious than 17-year-old Ace Pascual, a member of the Mariners and a student at Simi Valley High.
“I can’t wait to skate there. The (Olympic rink) seems almost twice the size of the one at Conejo Valley,” said Pascual, who learned to skate at the old Newbury Park rink six years ago after first playing roller hockey. “It’s the first time we’re gonna be able to take showers when we come off the ice. Now we don’t have to worry about upsetting our girlfriends after a game.”
Unlike many older skating facilities with poor sight lines, the Easy Street building has few visual obstacles. The permanent bleacher seating hugs the arena’s outer walls and is raised well above ice level. Between the twin rinks is a raised viewing platform that will house the deli. Underneath the platform is a warming area enclosed by sheets of transparent tempered glass that sit atop the hockey boards. “Wherever you go in this building you can see ice,” McGillivray said.
All McGillivray could see on the site a year ago was a vast, empty building. He had combed the San Fernando Valley and other nearby regions for several years in search of a suitable site, but until touching down in Simi Valley, had yet to find the right location at the right price.
“There was land available here and there, but my God, you’d never be able to pay the bills,” said McGillivray, whose chosen site a quarter-mile west of the Easy Street-Madera Road intersection was previously occupied by a building- and garden-supply store.
After waiting several months to attain the necessary amendments and approvals from Simi Valley, McGillivray was ready to begin construction--until the early morning of Jan. 17. Though the earthquake left his building relatively undamaged, it shook up the engineers.
“They said, ‘Whoa, let’s rethink this,’ ” McGillivray said. “All our structural and geological plans changed.”
Predictable delays followed. Engineering firms were tied up with emergency evaluations and repairs and the Easy Street project didn’t break ground until April. Thousands of additional rivets and welds went into the ceiling, and support pilings were driven much deeper into the ground than originally planned.
“We even added a full sprinkler system in case a fire breaks out on the ice,” McGillivray said wryly.
Throughout the construction process, curious visitors flooded the rink, to a point where McGillivray had to stop giving tours.
“People were just streaming in and out of the building all day on Saturday and Sunday,” McGillivray said this week. “One guy showed up with a whole van-load of kids.”
McGillivray hopes the crowds grow even larger once his building opens. The popularity of roller-blading and on-ice stars such as Wayne Gretzky and Nancy Kerrigan has contributed to a youth hockey and figure-skating boom. McGillivray expects to enhance that growth locally with the Mariners’ home schedule and the addition of Peter Caruthers, 1984 Olympic silver medalist, to the arena staff as a program consultant.
Scott Slinger, board member of the Thousand Oaks Thunder youth hockey organization, said membership has swelled from 76 players in 1984 to 525 this season. McGillivray, who founded the organization, said the Thunder is California’s largest youth hockey program.
Local figure-skating organizers say their numbers have increased as well. And both groups agree that they owe McGillivray, both for keeping the Conejo Valley rink open for the past seven years and for creating a sparkling facility they say will increase skating participation.
“I think the new rink will broaden our sport’s exposure in the Tri-Valley area, especially for the younger skaters,” said Nadine Starr-Graziano, a former competitive figure skater and a professional skating instructor for the past five years. “It’s going to be a place for them to learn discipline and at the same time make friends.”
There will be even more of an attraction near Easy and Madera once McGillivray turns the building adjacent to the new ice arena into a roller rink. Construction on that project is scheduled to begin in January and the rink will feature a plastic surface identical to those used in Roller Hockey International, the North American professional league.
Easy Street Arena
When the Easy Street Arena opens in Simi Valley, it will be the only rink in California to have both Olympic and regulation-size ice sheets under the same roof.
The rinks will be open 17 to 19 hours a day for recreational and competitive use. It will be the home ice for the Ventura Mariners of the Western States Hockey League, a junior league kicking off its inaugural season this winter.
The two-story facility will also be used for summer hockey camps, skating instruction and possibly figure skating competitions in the future.
* Rinks: Consist of NHL regulation-sized and Olympic-sized ice sheets totaling nearly 20,000 square feet.
* Uses: Public skating sessions, summer hockey camps, youth and adult hockey, figure skating.
* Seating: Second-level fixed seating capacity is 900. Temporary bleachers at end of rinks increases seating to 1,500.
* Amenities: Locker rooms, warming areas, pro shop, delicatessen and 1,200 pairs of rental skates available.
Source: Pittman Group Architects