Local business

Sports Basement to take over historic Berkeley ice rink

Five years after closure, Berkeley Iceland is derelict and graffittied. Photo: Sports Basement

Mayor Tom Bates fell on his butt there. Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak fondly recalled children’s parties there. There was a wave of nostalgia for Berkeley Iceland at last night’s City Council meeting, from both council members and residents providing public comment. But the passionate efforts of Save Berkeley Iceland, the campaign that hoped to resurrect a skating rink at the landmarked building, failed after a 7-0 vote to affirm the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision to allow retailer Sports Basement to adapt the structure at 2727 Milvia for a new store.

“This is in some ways a very sad day, and in some ways something positive,” Bates said. “It would have been great to [bring back] the rink. It would have been fabulous. But there is not a viable way to make it work.”

The only dissenting voice on the council was Darryl Moore, who abstained in the vote. His motion to call for a public hearing on the project, which would have created another two months’ delay, failed for lack of a second.

David Rumberg, one of the partners who own Sports Basement, told Moore that it was important to reach a conclusion at the council meeting.

“I’m burning through cash,” Rumberg said. “I had a burn rate of 17 months and we’ve gone beyond that, because I believe in our product and I believe in our approach.”

The current state of Berkeley Iceland’s interior. Photo: Sports Basement

The path to last night’s decision has not been straightforward since Berkeley Iceland closed operations on April 1, 2007. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the entire site a landmark four days later. The owners, East Bay Iceland (EBI), appealed the landmark status and started a lawsuit over the designation. The lawsuit was withdrawn last year. Save Berkeley Iceland (SBI) entered into an option agreement with EBI to buy the property in February, 2008. But, in December 2008, SBI notified EBI that they were not going forward with the purchase.

At numerous points since then, SBI and groups associated with it have said they had developers interested in operating an ice rink on the property. But, according to EBI, no formal proposals have ever been submitted. The cost of reinstating a rink on the property, according to several speakers at last night’s council meeting, could be as much as $15 million. When the building was put on the market, only Sports Basement accepted the terms of the letter of intent for purchase. In May 2010, EBI and Sports Basement agreed terms. In October 2010, the two parties completed the purchase and sale agreement.

“It was only after Iceland closed in 2007 and others had a chance to make something happen, and only then, that Sports Basement made an approach for the building,” Rumberg said last night. “Our goal is not to be the group that kills the dream, but to be the next best thing.”

The many SBI activists at last night’s meeting argued that the council should reject the ZAB recommendation and require a public hearing on the project.

“Losing Berkeley Iceland for the first Berkeley big box store is not a decision you should make,” said Tom Killilea, president of SBI. “What’s needed is a full public discussion.”

“There are so many places in Berkeley where a sports store could go,” said Elizabeth Grassetti. “There aren’t other places where an ice rink could go.”

Berkeley Iceland was designated a landmark in 2007

“Berkeley Iceland is more than a building,” said former mayor Shirley Dean. “It’s an institution. It’s something that needs to be preserved. There has never been a real chance for SBI to present a real alternative. The only way we can have that happen is to have a public hearing on this matter.”

Council Member Kriss Worthington cheered SBI supporters last night by saying EBI’s behavior in fighting the landmark designation and allowing the building to go derelict was “reprehensible and disgusting”. But he warned supporters that they wouldn’t applaud his decision.

“The proposal that’s before us does not demolish the landmark structure,” Worthington said. “The structure is still there. The changes being proposed by this business do not prevent it from being restored somewhere down the line into an ice rink facility. I think it’s an acceptable use of the building to have this business there.”

Council Member Max Anderson also supported the project.

“That building has been sitting there for five years,” he said. “It’s become a blight on the neighborhood. The glorious history of Iceland is on record. It’s laudable. We gave them a chance. We said, ‘Look. Raise the money. Do what you want to do.’ But there’s only one buyer stepping up that has a plan. This business stepped into the breach when no one else could or would.”

Council Member Jesse Arreguín focused on Rumberg’s statement at the meeting that “the vast majority” of the 70 jobs he expects Sports Basement to create will go to Berkeley residents. “I hope the applicant’s commitment to hire local residents will be something he can fulfill,” Arreguín said. “It’s great as well that he’s willing to offer space for different kinds of community uses.”

Rumberg said that Sports Basement had been misrepresented by some SBI activists “as some kind of faceless, large corporation”. “Once you understand what our DNA is, you’ll understand our commitment to local team and community groups.”

Rumberg said his company had spent $6 million purchasing the property and would spend about another $6 million renovating, including a seismic retrofit. The renovated building will have 71,862 sq ft of retail space. A little over 5,000 sq ft of the building will be specifically dedicated as a community space available for community meetings and events. The project includes a total of 44 off-street vehicle parking spaces, two off-street loading spaces, 64 off-street bike parking spaces and an additional 40 employee bicycle parking spaces within the store.

Live coverage of the Sept. 11, 2012 Berkeley City Council meeting [09.11.12]
Op/Ed: Berkeley Iceland is so much more than a building [09.11.12]
Op/Ed: Let’s maintain Berkeley Iceland whatever its fate [07.25.12]

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  • The Sharkey

    1.) I think it would be nice if the City could find finds to install a State Parks style interpretive panel on the site talking about the history of Berkeley’s Iceland. Interpretive panels in various parts of the city talking about historic sites would be a nice addition, and a way that we could keep in touch with Berkeley’s history while still moving forward.

    2.) I hope a company like Ohmega Salvage is going to be allowed to scrounge the site for reclaimable material before they bring in the wrecking crew. I see a lot of stuff in those photos (wood, metal, tables, seats) that could be put to good use by crafty people.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Good point – as they salvaged the wooden seats from the UC Stadium and used them to make furniture.

  • The Sharkey

    Even things like the seating from the eating area or that big mirror with the graffiti in the second picture could be put to good use, and I’m sure there are plenty of industrial light fixtures and other assorted miscellany that could be re-purposed.

    Rather than making all of it into expensive furniture, it would be nice if the raw materials could be made available to the community for them to see what they could do with them. I was in Portland a few weeks ago, and the building salvage stores they have there are pretty interesting. A lot more raw wood and salvaged fixtures/appliances than what I see in Berkeley, and a lot more reasonably priced.

  • berkopinionator

    It was estimated to cost $400,000, or less, to replace the ammonia cooling system in 2004.
    At today’s interest rates, a monthly payment for that amount could be under $1,800.  Doesn’t anyone want to jump in to take that deal to run a historic ice rink? 

  • Another Guest

    At this point there are clearly a lot of other things that would need to be repaired/replaced in the building in order to make it functional.

  • Berk native

    They could convert it into a roller rink!!

  • Completely_Serious

    Must be the bi-biennial injection of common sense just before an election.  Hurrah!

  • Drumberg

    (The Sharkey) — Actually there are plans for the raw material in the building. Sports Basement has used places like Ohmega, Urban Ore, among other salvage yards for our fixtures. There are plans to create two community spaces where the bleachers will be re built to reflect new building codes, but retain the old wood. We also see a lot of other potential uses.

    There are also plans to restore the former lobby and have it reflect the buildings past. We have reached out to the Zamboni Family and others for memorabilia and direction. Of course we will seek input from others like Tom K from SBI and BAHA.

  • Greg

    Wow, you faceless “big-box” corporate types sure are hands on.  Makes me kind of wish it was Wal-Mart moving in so we could ask Rob Walton questions.

    Jokes aside, any chance you have a rough idea of when construction might start?

  • The Sharkey

    Thanks for the information! It sounds like Sports Basement will be a great addition to the community.  :)

  • PorcelinaGrout

    As much as I hated seeing Iceland go, it just never was realistic to expect that it could be restored to its former glory. Even when my kids were going to birthday parties there 15-20 years ago it was shabby and sad. It just was not a vibrant well-used space. We need a sporting goods store in Berkeley – we’ve been driving all over the bay area to buy equipment for our kids that play sports. This is a great site for a sporting goods store and I agree that it’s the “next best thing.” I will certainly be shopping at Sports Basement and hey – maybe my kid can get a job there!

  • Drumberg

    Greg — We have building plans sitting in the Building Department waiting for a second round of comments. We’ve drifted a bit waiting for some more certainty. Providing no hurdles are brought forward, I suspect we can have plans out and start sometime in Jan 2013 give or take a month

  • Greg

    Thanks Dave!

  • Eegrass

    I think Tom Bates has blood oin his hands. He’ll be know as the guy who killed kids sports in Berkeley. It will be Berkeley’s Playland at the Beach – a place that lives on in memory – a bad memory of politics going terribly wrong – and a reminder of why he will lose his job in November.

    Sports Basement MUST be required to hire all Berkeley staff, and must Fund kids recreation in Berkeley – and not Just footballl and baseball which are only done out doors in good weather, and tradtionally. boys sports. Something for the girls – Ice Skating – a temporary rink in civic center park every year.

    This is the only way they will redeam themselves with the children of Berkeley.

  • Eegrass

    Tom Btes and his cronies are responsible for this mess – he personally is against Iceland being a rink. He’s a developer at heart and he is ruining out city.

    WE know iceland could have been a viable skating rink – and made a reasonable amount of money – enough to cover expenses – but The owners of iceland refused to sell to the local non-profit. They didn’t want to be embarrassed by having the non-profit run a good rink.

    When sports basement goes out of business we’ll put the rink back in.

  • Eegrass

    That’s because the owners took home 7 million dollars in 10 years instead of reinvesting in the rink. Don’t be niave. This was a long planned moved by East Bay Iceland Inc. They purosely let the rink become run down and took $$ home to So. Cal.

  • Eegrass

    I hope they don’t toiuch the rink at all. Keep the bleachers – and the ice and get replace our elected officials with decent humans.

  • Eegrass

    Urban ore got a sweatheart loan by the city council on Tuesday night, and yet save berkeley iceland wasn’t offered a nickel by the City. Seems that they have money to spend where they want to spend it. And it’s not on kids – or recreation.

  • David D.

    Are you serious? Iceland was a business. Sports Basement is a business. One helped create good memories on site; the other will help create them off site. Their efforts are no more nobler than that.

    There’s no reason to require all Berkeley staffing. Oakland is only a few blocks away, and the people living there deserve employment just as much as anyone else. Imagine the chaos if every little town in the East Bay had hire-locals-only policies.

    As if your post wasn’t oblivious and insensitive enough to reality, you take ridiculousness to an all new level by suggesting that girls won’t purchase goods at Sports Basement because the store somehow caters to boys’ sports. It’s pretty clear you have an antiquated view on life; I hope you don’t go out and vote in November.

  • guest

    You are making a lot of assertions here.  Prove your points.

  • Peter_mendes@yahoo.com

    The Sportsbasement is a great local grown company. They will provide a ton of free yoga, spin and running classes for the community along with needed jobs. I’ve been buying gear from them for over 10 years and they are a chill and community centric organization that can help open more doors and peak healthy interests then that of a small niche organization such as an ice rink sadly. I love ice skating but not every kid or adult will be interested in skating but they will ride a bike, run, swim, go for a hike, do yoga, rock climb, ski, etc…

  • DisGuested

    Looks like they are ripping everything out of the interior with small bulldozers at this point, and throwing the contents into dumpsters.

  • Aggravating


  • Amy

    Perhaps if the people on the board of EBI weren’t so incredibly greedy there would still be money to put into the business.
    I worked here for years and saw things perpetually going downhill. Things were broken, people would get very injured working, pay is low, managers were abusive, and the whole show was run by a board of investors all over the age of 80.
    They would show up every so often for their dividend checks and bonus.
    I know how much money this place was bringing in towards the end and it was NOT enough to keep the explosion waiting to happen in the back of the rink at bay.

    If I recall Berkeley Iceland was responsible for the largest ammonia spill in the state of California at one point.

    I just don’t see how a struggling business being run by the daft and uncaring was ever supposed to stand a chance.

    Jay Wescott & Monte Tiedemann, you swindling crooks. Perhaps if you guys weren’t taking a slice from the top they’d still be going.

    I think it is very sad for the community to lose a safe haven and fun place for kids.
    It was a first job for many and I’m saddened to know I won’t be able to take my niece here one day.

    Having said that—being bought by the “big business” is what happens when the little one can’t manage itself.

    I’m not eager by the idea of a sports store in there instead of a community rec center but who’s going to fund this?

    Tom Bates didn’t kill fun for the community.
    If you’d seen the way things had been run for years you’d understand it was a suicide.