Despite being chastised by city officials after closing the Bridgepointe Shopping Center ice rink, property owner SPI Holdings has returned to San Mateo planners offering $3 million in return for being allowed to demolish the recreational amenity.
Some in the community have fought hard for the last two years to prevent the center’s owner, SPI Holdings, from amending the site’s master plan, which calls for an ice rink or recreational use on the site.
But SPI is hoping to capitalize on one stipulation of the 1998 document that allowed the center to be built — if it receives City Council’s approval, it can reconstruct the former Ice Center into more retail space. Another controversy-causing caveat states that although the master plan prevents SPI from demolishing the rink without city approval, it doesn’t require it remain operational.
“This will be a challenging situation for [the] council as emotions run deep on the ice skating rink and the legal restrictions limit our options,” Mayor Maureen Freschet wrote in an email acknowledging she’d yet to review the proposal. “City Council will be studying this proposal with great care and will explore every possible alternative to ensure we do the right thing for San Mateo within the limits of our authority.”
SPI turned in a formal application Tuesday evening to the city’s Planning Division and, due to the sensitive nature of the issue, Chief of Planning Ron Munekawa said the city will strive to make the developer’s documents available online by the end of the week.
Hundreds of ice rink supporters have attended various meetings to urge city officials not to amend the plans saying there’s no substitute for the rink that was heavily used before the owners chose to cancel its contract with the former operator in June 2013.
“For the past two years, they’ve deprived the community of this benefit and they shouldn’t be able to get off the hook by simply cutting a check and walking away from the problem they’ve caused,” said Len Rosenduft, a member of the Save the Bridgepointe Ice Rink Committee, while referring to the Planning Commission’s input last year.
Last May, the commission slammed SPI for closing the facility when it reviewed its second pre-application to demolish the rink.
Although the proposal remains similar, this time, SPI is offering a hefty incentive while arguing it’s to San Mateo’s benefit to support a sales-tax revenue generating revamp versus a recreational amenity used by outsiders from across the Peninsula.
“We believe the direct contribution of $3 million to be used by the city for any purpose related to San Mateo parks and recreation and a re-use of the building as retail is the best possible solution for the greatest number of people. This approach will result in tremendous benefits for all San Mateo residents and allow the city to address the many unmet recreational needs of its residents,” according to a letter submitted with the application by Michael Stoner on behalf of SPI. “Bridgepointe Partners also believes that this conversion of the building to retail will significantly enhance Bridgepointe’s offerings and keep the center — the city’s most productive retail center — fresh and vital.”
Rosenduft and Dina Artzt, who has long fought to reopen the rink, said the rink was a destination that attracted shoppers to San Mateo and heavily used by a broad range of people from old to young and hockey players to those with handicaps.
Deputy Mayor Jack Matthews said he served on the Planning Commission when the master plan was established and is disappointed SPI doesn’t seem willing to maintain a rink.
“There are a lot of considerations and I don’t know, is $3 million enough?” Matthews said. “I would like to see the needs of the ice skating community met and I do feel badly that the developer, the property owner, is not acknowledging that.”
Matthews noted SPI’s argument that the ice rink was a regional facility and added his commitment is to San Mateo residents.
SPI informally approached the city last October by suggesting it would maintain a sheet of ice on site, but without amenities such as locker rooms or space for concessionaires. However, those negotiations proved fruitless and SPI apparently prefers to focus on retail while deferring recreation elsewhere.
“Our vision for this project aims to keep the shopping center viable in today’s market while increasing revenues to the city. In the process, we would be able to better serve the city’s recreational needs through a significant contribution to benefit facilities and programs citywide. We believe this to be a win-win for all the parties,” Dennis Wong of SPI said in a press release.
Councilman Rick Bonilla, who was on the Planning Commission last May and chastised SPI during the pre-application hearing, said he hadn’t yet formed an opinion on the new proposal.
“I think that it’s necessary to have a hearing. We need to sit down and hear all the facts and think and talk about it. And find out what the reality is from our legal team and kind of go from there,” Bonilla said.
While city officials were reluctant to take a firm stance, the ice rink supporters vowed the passing of time hasn’t quieted their efforts.
“We have tremendous support to keep this rink for future generations,” Artzt said. “We are completely ready to fight as hard as we need to keep this rink in our community.”
For more information about the proposal check the city’s website later this week at www.cityofsanmateo.org. Munekawa said staff will thoroughly review the proposal before scheduling a Planning Commission hearing.
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