San Mateo ice rink to reopen: Bridgepointe owner withdraws $8 million offer to demolish for new retail, skate enthusiasts ‘ecstatic’

Closed since 2013, the Bridgepointe Shopping Center ice rink is slated to reopen after the property owner pulled a controversial application to demolish the San Mateo destination.

In an astonishing about-face, owners of the Bridgepointe Shopping Center announced they would reopen the community’s beloved ice rink after years of battling with skating enthusiasts and San Mateo officials who sought to preserve the unique recreational amenity.

Thursday’s announcement means skaters of all ages could once again return to the rink that’s been shuttered since 2013. Since the rink’s closure, a stronghold of enthusiasts forged opposition to plans to demolish the rink by Bridgepointe owner SPI Holdings.

“We are ecstatic and we feel shocked ourselves that after this long journey, that Bridgepointe is likely to open very soon and we are thankful for the entire community coming together and working hard,” said Dina Artzt, with the Save the Bridgepointe Ice Rink Group. “It feels really wonderful to be at this hopefully end of the road with a happy ending.”

SPI made the decision less than two weeks before it was slated to go before the San Mateo City Council with a hefty $8 million offer in exchange for being allowed to construct retail in place of the rink just east of the intersection of State Route 92 and Highway 101.

The rink has been credited with allowing the former Fashion Island Shopping Center to be redeveloped into Bridgepointe and is called out in the site’s 1998 master plan. The former Ice Center maintained one sheet of ice, locker rooms, bleachers and a neighboring restaurant occupied the building along Bridgepointe Parkway.

Despite SPI representatives having adamantly maintained they had no intention of ever reopening the rink as recently as last month, years of pressure from the community led to a change of heart.

“This has been a long and difficult process and I misjudged the civic devotion to the ice rink,” SPI Partner Dennis Wong said in a statement, adding they will make the space available for an operator who can reopen the facility.

Before children return to hockey practice at Bridgepointe, SPI will have to find an operator willing to invest in upgrading the equipment that’s sat unused for years.

Councilman Joe Goethals, an active supporter who has collaborated with officials from other cities and the county to potentially create a regional facility, said he’s confident San Mateo’s rink will reopen with haste.

“This is a revelation of SPI. Save the Rink [advocates] never gave up and the city of San Mateo has been seeking a resolution that’s a win for the residents,” Goethals said. “The operator will need a long-term lease because there will need to be some capital investment in order to get it going. But San Mateo will bend over backwards, we will do everything we can to make sure the process of improving the building to support the ice rink will happen, and will happen as soon as possible so that kids can be skating later this year.”

Goethals and Artzt said it’s their understanding a long-term lease at a price comparable to other rinks would be offered.

Goethals applauded rink advocates who’d shown up to countless public meetings in droves with kids clad in hockey and figure skating gear, launched a public campaign, hired attorneys and pushed to preserve the facility.

“This rink means so much to so many and we are beside ourselves with joy that this rink will hopefully reopen, we want to make sure it does reopen and until it does, we’re not going to count our chickens,” Artzt said, while expressing appreciation for Goethals and SPI’s Wong.

SPI’s sudden turnaround includes withdrawing its application to amend the site’s master plan, which has explicit provisions prohibiting the rink from being demolished without prior council approval.

The council will no longer consider the $8 million offer March 20, a meeting already foreshadowed by the Planning Commission narrowly voting 3-2 to deny SPI’s request. Last month, several commissioners unleashed strong criticism at SPI for its apparent lack of consideration for the community, while urging representatives to reconsider the financial viability of reopening the rink.

Wong, who has not been present for most of the meetings, explained the turnaround.

“After hearing the planning commissioners who voted against the most recent offer and members of the public who also urged the offer be rejected, I have decided to offer the space to ice rink operators who want to re-open an ice rink in the existing facility,” Wong said.

SPI had argued new retail offerings were necessary to meet changing demands. But with more shopping online and other property looking for experiential offerings like Hillsdale Shopping Center’s upcoming bowling alley and cinema, many have credited the ice rink as a draw for Bridgepointe.

Over the course of the former Ice Center’s 2013 closure, the Planning Commission has reviewed SPI’s request at least three times and consistently recommended a denial. Initially, SPI offered to construct a park restroom and turf an existing field, estimated to cost about $1 million. SPI amended their proposal over the years, including offering $3 million to the city and a $1 million to the San Mateo Police Activities League. When the council turned that down last year, SPI upped the ante to $8 million.

For the first time in years, SPI nudged a bit closer to its goal as rink supporters suggested potentially easing their opposition if San Mateo allocated the funds toward a creating a new rink in Burlingame.

The northern neighbor is looking for a new operator at its Burlingame Golf Center, and the newly formed nonprofit Mid-Peninsula Ice Rink Foundation submitted a redevelopment proposal. The foundation, formed by Bridgepointe supporters and following the Belmont rink’s closure, contend a two-sheet rink would provide needed recreation to the broader community.

The Burlingame City Council will consider proposals, which also include offers from Top Golf and a badminton group, Tuesday, March 21.

Foundation co-founder Mike Strambi said it was premature to say whether they would pull their application to Burlingame, but said it’s wonderful Bridgepointe would reopen.

“We are ecstatic that it is clear that ice sports will continue on the mid-Peninsula, which we always believed there was a strong need for and could be economically viable,” Strambi said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand for ice and this will help absorb this underserved need.”

Sarah Feldman, CEO and co-founder of the Silicon Valley Ice Skating Association, which formed after Belmont Iceland closed and has been working to either reopen it or provide for a location for a new rink in that city, was also pleased by the announcement.

“Personally, I am thrilled for the success of our sister effort. They have worked so hard for so long,” she said in an email. “This will be an amazing gem that the community will treasure as a legacy for decades to come.”

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