Not a gutter ball yet

Deirdre Newman

As demolition day approaches for the landmark Kona Lanes bowling

alley, accusations are flying that C.J. Segerstrom & Sons did not

make enough effort to keep bowling and other entertainment uses at

the Mesa Verde Center.

Kona Lanes, a distinctive bowling facility renowned for its googie

architecture, closed May 18. The Edwards movie theater and the Ice

Capades Chalet closed within four months of each other in 2001.

The Segerstroms, who own the shopping center, had intended to

replace all three with a Kohl's department store. But the City

Council shot that down in April after residents cried foul about the

loss of recreation and the prospect of another boxy, chain department

store being plopped onto Harbor Boulevard.

In their effort to get Kohl's approved, Segerstrom spokesman Paul

Freeman said in February the market for bowling in Costa Mesa did not

support the ailing Kona Lanes, which the Segerstroms were keeping

alive with rent concessions.

But not everyone agrees with that verdict.

Several entertainment operators say they would take over Kona

Lanes in a heartbeat if a long-term lease or the right price to buy

the land was available.

"It's a goldmine," said Joe Roussin of AMF Bowling. "I don't care

what anybody says on the Segerstrom side. I have several people that

are interested in that facility, at the right price ... [The

Segerstroms] don't even want to look at it. They're just saying it's

dead and they just want to tear it down."

Segerstrom officials declined to comment for this story.

The balls started rolling down the lanes at Kona in 1958. But a

drop in league play and Kona's outdated scoring system both

contributed to an unalterable loss in revenue.

Owner Jack Mann said he had discussed renovation options with the

Segerstroms. He estimated that he would have to invest about $3

million for a return of only $175,000 per year. He said the only

option they came up with was for a larger entertainment plan that

would involve the defunct Edwards movie theater and cost about $10

million.

Earlier this year, Freeman also alluded to rehabilitation attempts

that failed due to economics.

"We looked at something like three to four detailed, conceptual

plans for expanded theater use, expanded recreation use," Freeman

said in February. "One scenario had a rink with the alley. There

simply wasn't the financial support to commit to it. Nobody wanted to

make the long-term commitment to spread over some time the cost of a

major renovation, and nothing short of that would have made it a

viable use."

But some say the Segerstroms failed to provide long-term lease

opportunities.

Dave Osborn, vice-president of operations for Fountain Bowl in

Fountain Valley, said the partnership that owns Fountain Bowl tried

to negotiate a long-term lease with the Segerstroms five years ago,

to no avail.

"The landlord would not give us a long-term lease," Osborn said.

"Without it, you can't renovate the center, [you] can't afford to do

it. [The Segerstroms] did not want it to be a bowling center. They

wanted it to be something else."

And as recently as a week ago, Eleda Cohen, managing partner of

Sports Center Bowl in Studio City, said the Segerstroms wouldn't give

her any price for the land. Cohen said her business has increased 10%

each of the last four years.

"A piece of property in Costa Mesa is a prime piece of property

and it would be great to have a bowling center there," Cohen said. "I

didn't have anything to go on."

And the Segerstroms' claim that the market for bowling in Costa

Mesa is lackluster isn't entirely correct, Roussin said.

While league bowling throughout the industry has dropped in recent

years, nonleague bowling has picked up, keeping attendance overall

steady, Roussin explained.

"It used to be 70% league and 30% open," Roussin said. "Today,

it's about 50-50. There's a decline in one area, but entertainment

and open play has picked up and [we're] still at 100% plateau.

Overall, it's doing extremely well."

Former Planning Commissioner Tim Cromwell also believes the

Segerstroms could have done more to save Kona Lanes and the other

entertainment uses. Putting up a "For Lease" sign would have been a

good start, he said.

Cromwell, who develops shopping centers, said the Segerstroms can

make more money converting the entertainment to other uses. But he

would like to see the Segerstroms keep Kona Lanes and use it as a

bargaining chip with the city for future entitlements on the

property.

Cromwell would also like to see a city leader act quickly to

declare the bowling alley historical to prevent demolition.

"If I was actually a city councilman, knowing what I know right

now about the interest in Kona Lanes from legitimate operators and

people who have the money to renovate and operate it and run it as a

first-class bowling alley, I think I would look into declaring Kona

Lanes as a historic building in the city of Costa Mesa and stop the

wrecking ball," Cromwell said.

While the movie theater and ice rink have not generated the same

groundswell of nostalgia, there is evidence that there is strong

support for these uses in Orange County.

Krikorian Theatres just opened a new movie theater in Buena Park.

For renovation opportunities, amenities like new screens, stadium

seating and no competition within three miles would be ideal but not

absolutely necessary, said Jeff Kristoff, a real estate consultant

who works with Krikorian.

"We're always looking for a good site to expand," Kristoff said.

"If there's a site that makes sense, we'll take a crack at it."

And the Ice Palace, which owns a rink in Aliso Viejo, opened a

brand new rink in Yorba Linda last November in an abandoned Ralph's

building. The rink offers a skating school, a hockey school, skating

competitions and other events, said Dominic Bassi, rink employee.

"We're doing very well," Bassi said. "We're above average for a

rink."

Councilman Allan Mansoor said he believes recreational options are

still viable at Mesa Verde, but the onus is on the Segerstroms to

provide them.

"There's no doubt in my mind that a recreational type of use could

work there and that there are people that are interested in such a

use, but the bottom line is that it's going to be up to the

Segerstroms to bring something forward," Mansoor said.

As far as Assistant Development Services Director Perry Valantine

knows, the Segerstroms have not yet applied for a permit to demolish

Kona. But once they do, the bulldozers can start immediately,

Valantine said.

A step Cromwell would like to avoid at all costs.

"When the wrecking ball hits Kona Lanes, it's gone forever and

they're probably going to get in there within the next couple of

weeks and start demolition," Cromwell said. "As long as that building

is still there, that has value to someone else."

* DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers Costa Mesa and may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at deirdre.newman@latimes.com.

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