When SPI Holdings first proposed in 2012 removing the ice rink from Bridgepointe, the shopping center it owns in San Mateo, it seemed like a win-win.
In exchange for having the city allow replacing the rink with retail, which would draw more tax revenue, SPI proposed providing money for some much-needed park improvements throughout the city. New restrooms at Mariners Island Park and perhaps all-weather turf at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park were some ideas and definitely needed. Besides, the rink was not used as much as it used to be, I thought at the time.
Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out many people used that ice rink and want it to remain where it is. And they have come out to public meetings on the topic in droves. To put it bluntly, the idea of demolishing the ice rink and putting retail in its place isn’t going well. The decision ultimately lies with the City Council, but I can’t imagine a member of the council coming out against hundreds of residents demanding the rink remain in lieu of more retail. It would be electoral suicide and frankly, stupid.
A little history. The ice rink has been at that location since Bridgepointe was Fashion Island and a 1996 master plan for the redevelopment into its current incarnation specifically included the ice rink in the project description. In 1997, the developers asked for a modification of the master plan to replace the rink with three retail spaces because of the expense of the rink’s renovation. The city sponsored a mediation session between the property owner and several ice rink operators and the idea of replacing the rink with retail died and the rink remained. The result of the agreement, however, changed the master plan to provide an alternative recreational use of similar size and subject to review by the Planning Commission. And that is the language that brought forth the latest set of proposals. When SPI floated the idea of replacing the rink with retail in 2012, its representatives said it could come up with something like a rock-climbing wall or it could provide cash for improvements to other city recreational areas. But they contended they did not want to continue having an ice rink at the location. The proposal was dropped last year as the ice rink’s lease expired and it shut down. So the city has been left without a recreational use at the site since then.
In the meantime, SPI has come up with another proposal absent the specifics of what improvements could be made elsewhere. And the city has been left without a recreational use at the site since. At Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting, Planning Commissioner Dianne Whitaker said it best: “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.”
That is true. And getting something from the city requires a certain amount of goodwill, of which SPI currently has none — aside from, of course, the stores it has like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond and the tax revenue it provides. SPI owns this property and has purview over it, as long as it meets city guidelines. And currently, the city’s guidelines require a recreational use at Bridgepointe that is currently not being provided. Until that changes, I can’t see the current discussion proceeding as it is. Something has to change.
In a Daily Journal article Tuesday, Mayor Robert Ross suggested a win-win scenario in which the city could relax height limits so Bridgepointe could go taller while allowing the rink to stay, perhaps with a rooftop park terrace at the top. That way, they could get more retail and the rink could stay. That may not be the exact answer, but there better be some discussions about alternatives soon.
Through that, maybe, just maybe, there could be some goodwill generated. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.