Culver City Ice Arena to stay a rink -- for now, city says

Culver City Ice Arena to stay a rink -- for now, city says
Teah Suhr, 3, skating at the Culver City Ice Arena last month. The rink is scheduled to close Feb. 15. It's the last on the Westside and one of just a handful in all of Southern California. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Following a public outcry, the city of Culver City dug into its files and discovered what officials believe is a document that could ensure that a decades-old ice arena remains an ice rink.

City officials informed the rink's owner and the new lessee, Planet Granite, of its findings last week — potentially putting the brakes on a plan to convert the 52-year-old rink into a rock-climbing and yoga facility.


City officials said a use variance granted in 1960 prohibits the use of the property for anything except an ice rink. In a statement, officials said a zone change would be required to execute Planet Granite's plan for the space.

In addition, "A zone change would require review and recommendation by the Planning Commission and ultimate approval by the City Council at a public hearing," the statement said.

An environmental review would also be required, officials said.

The announcement was a temporary victory for longtime skaters who appealed to the council to find a way to save the ice rink.

But James Lee, a spokesman for Planet Granite, said attorneys will need to inspect the document to verify its authenticity and ensure that it is still applicable. He said more recent codes and regulations may supersede the 1960 document.

"I strongly suspect that the city felt compelled, politically speaking, to have to put out a statement … in order to protect themselves," he said. "Whether or not (the document) holds water, that's a separate question we'll have to get an answer to."

Lee said "a substantial problem" with an ammonia hazard connected to the rink "threatens the local community and hasn't been addressed." He said the current operator of the rink plans to turn the lights off Feb. 15, and there is not a current plan to finance a solution to the hazard.

Lee said Planet Granite does not contractually assume control of the property until June, but the company has offered to intervene with any decommissioning.

"No matter what, you are always going to have bumps in the road," he said.

Over the years, the retro rink has served as a practice facility for such stars as skating partners Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan and Wayne Gretzky.

More than 15,000 fans of the arena have signed an online petition to save it as of Thursday.

John Jackson, who owns the skating business, said he was unable to negotiate a lease renewal. A member of Jackson's staff, Shannon Takahashi, said the property owner, Mike A. Karagozian, asked $68,000 a month in rent, nearly double what Jackson has been paying.

"We just can't imagine that something here 52 years, that serves people from Pacific Palisades and Hollywood, where more than 2,000 skaters came last weekend, is going to close," Takahashi said.

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT