As the battle over the proposal to demolish the old Ice Center at Bridgepointe Shopping Center continues to heat up, the San Mateo Planning Commission weighed in at a study session Tuesday night by urging the owner to reopen the rink until matters are resolved and stressed the significance of the city maintaining a unique recreational facility.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first chance for city officials to publically comment on the proposal to demolish the rink and the commission demanded studies concerning traffic and financial impacts, as well as an analysis of San Mateo’s current recreational amenities and the city’s ability to force the rink be reopened.
In March, Bridgepointe’s owner, SPI Holdings, filed a second pre-application to the city’s Planning Division to amend the site’s Master Plan to allow it to demolish the rink, defer a recreational use elsewhere and create more retail space in its place.
Per the Master Plan that was adopted in 1998, SPI cannot demolish the rink without support from the Planning Commission and approval from the City Council.
SPI closed the rink in June 2013 and the commissioners said it was a disservice to the public and in poor taste.
“I can understand SPI looking at this site and saying ‘gee, our shopping center would be better off if instead of an ice rink here we had a series of retail stores,’” said Planning Commission Chair Chris Massey. “I can understand SPI coming to the city and asking for a change in the Master Plan to allow for that. What I don’t understand is closing the rink. I don’t understand what the applicant thought they could achieve by doing that.”
SPI representatives have said creating more retail space at Bridgepointe will allow it to remain viable and competitive against the nearby Hillsdale and Stanford shopping centers.
C.J. Higley, an attorney representing SPI in its application, said an unsuccessful retail center is also bad for the community and SPI is trying to avoid going out of business, as did the former Fashion Island Shopping Center.
SPI contributes about $2 million in sales tax revenue to the city annually and it estimates redeveloping the rink would generate an additional $300,000 a year, Higley said.
The commission requested thorough data on how SPI came up with its projections and a group called Save the Rink urged the commission to ponder larger economic impacts. The group questioned if adding new stores at Bridgepointe would cannibalize other businesses within the city or if the loss of the rink would affect property values.
Commissioners Rick Bonilla and Josh Hugg didn’t think circumstances had changed since the shopping center’s owner tried to remove the rink in 1997 and the City Council and public insisted it stay in 1998.
Commissioner Charlie Drechsler and Bonilla requested data on how much revenue the city and the mall has lost since the rink was closed last year. Bonilla added that every study and question asked during the adoption of the Master Plan should be asked again.
“Regardless of how long this takes, I’d like to see the rink operational again … because that rink helped that project get approved, that’s it. I don’t think anyone’s demonstrated financially … the lack of that facility is going to help the mall do better. I’m pretty sure those restaurants have lost revenue and I’m pretty sure those stores have lost revenue,” Drechsler said.
As the public and commissioners abhorred SPI for closing the rink nearly a year ago, one of the biggest sticking points was whether the city has authority to force the rink to reopen.
Although city officials have repeatedly stated it wasn’t within their purview and that it could only deny the site being used for anything else, members of the public questioned if it couldn’t do more to force SPI’s hand.
Attorney Camas Steinmetz, who said she works as a deputy city attorney for San Carlos and Foster City and is representing the Save the Rink group, suggested the city investigate other ways to reopen the rink such as creating an ordinance that would allow the city to fine SPI if it willingly left storefronts empty.
Hugg also wondered if the city couldn’t exert more force and Bonilla stressed it was implied in the Master Plan that the rink would remain operational.
Raymon Miolla and Michael Strambi said if the city can’t force SPI to reopen the rink, they’ve started to investigate opportunities for opening one elsewhere in the city, but it will likely cost upwards of $7 million to $9 million.
Commissioner Dianne Whitaker said the Master Plan specifically calls for the recreational amenity to remain onsite if possible.
“I don’t believe that we should be considering either a recreation fee paid in lieu of or finding a new location for an ice rink,” Whitaker said. “I feel that the property owners and the applicant have been in violation of … the Master Plan since 2012 when the rink was shut down.”
Drechsler encouraged Bridgepointe that the city wants it to be successful, but he and Hugg questioned as to what cost.
“I’m willing to listen to what the alternatives are. But I really think it was not a good faith gesture on the part of the applicant to start off by cutting the amenity,” Hugg said. “All of these things that make a healthy community should not be reduced to what can be made monetarily.”
The pre-application to amend the Bridgepointe Master Plan will be heard by the City Council during a study session at a date yet to be determined. For more information visit www.cityofsanmateo.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106