We would not even be talking about next steps for the Bridgepointe ice rink were it not for three heroes on the San Mateo Planning Commission, Dianne Whitaker, chair; John Ebneter and Charles Drechsler. They were the three who said no to SPI’s request to replace the ice rink with retail and in return give the city $8 million. SPI is the owner of the shopping center. Bridgepointe was originally approved by the San Mateo City Council with the requirement that it include an ice rink. The city later modified the requirement, at the request of developer Peter Pau, to a similar recreational use if the rink was unable to continue. SPI discontinued the ice rink’s lease without notifying the city and it has sat empty for the past four years.
The expectation was that despite the many protests from rink supporters who had showed up at previous meetings, the Planning Commission would have the three or more votes to accept SPI’s proposal. It would have gone to the City Council in any event, and there it was certain that there were at least three votes to seal the deal for SPI. But that didn’t happen. Why? There are several explanations for why SPI decided to withdraw its proposal after the planning commission vote. One, is that for the first time, Dennis Wong, SPI founder and managing director, watched the commission, not in person, but on TV. He hadn’t realized that $8 million wouldn’t satisfy the community or the bad feelings engendered by years of rink supporters versus SPI. Rink supporters don’t buy that explanation. They say with SPI, it’s only been about greed. With the goal of eventually selling the shopping center, SPI realized that an ice rink might be an attraction for customers to counter the loss of Sports Authority and the unknown future of Staples which is closing a few stores nationwide. Parents could drop their kids off for skating or hockey while they shopped. But who knows what changed their minds?
We do know what changed one or more commissioners’ minds. They were fed up with some members of SPI’s team and their arrogant attitude.
So what’s next? Councilman Joe Goethals has been working with the ice skating/hockey community to find a regional solution. Now he has taken on the heroic task of working with SPI to find a viable rink operator and to negotiate a long-term lease of 15 years with a clause which gives the city first right of refusal to find someone else to operate the rink if SPI bails. Goethals wants the rink to open by August in time for junior hockey practice in September. He and SPI are calling all potential ice rink operators to a meeting this Saturday to see who can fund the necessary capital improvements and agree to a 15-year lease. Among potential bidders could be the San Jose Sharks that run facilities in Oakland and Pleasanton. Or the Mid-Peninsula Ice Rink Foundation which was raising money for a regional rink. In the end, SPI makes the call.
Mike Swire, a leader in the Save the Rink group said they are “thrilled that SPI has announced that it will soon reopen the ice rink. We are extremely grateful for the tens of thousands of hours and dollars that our volunteers have committed over the past five years to get our kids skating again. They never gave up."
“This should also serve as a lesson to local elected officials on the importance of ensuring an adequate supply and diversity of recreational opportunities on the Peninsula. With our skyrocketing land values, it will be increasingly difficult for private recreational amenities to compete for scarce land. Without the heroic effort of San Mateo Councilman Joe Goethals, we would have lost this recreational jewel. We also applaud the support of Supervisor Dave Pine and other officials in trying to identify a regional solution.”
It’s also a lesson to developers and other business interests. If you want to invest in a Peninsula city make sure you work with the community and not against it. Compromise is possible if you are viewed as a “good guy.”
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.