A group that worked to place Berkeley Iceland on a city list of historic places is circulating a ballot measure that calls for the city to consider including a recreation space in any future development.
Members of Save Berkeley Iceland started collecting signatures on the measure on March 31 and hope to gather 3,000 signatures by May 10. If they are successful, the measure would go on the November ballot.
The measure would set city policy so that when any plans for the property come before the City Council or any commission, policy makers would have to consider the need for community recreation in their decisions, said Tom Killilea, the president of Save Berkeley Iceland.
“We have a real chance to let the City know that we, the Citizens of Berkeley, believe that the future of Berkeley Iceland belongs to the community,” reads a statement on the group’s website. “By getting this initiative on the ballot, our community will be able to vote on what we believe should be the future of Berkeley Iceland. By declaring that the policy of the City to be the restoration of Berkeley Iceland as a community recreation facility, we will make sure that action taken by the City Council on Berkeley Iceland, including appeals of Zoning Board decisions or plans proposed by the City itself, reflect these priorities.”
The group is hoping to influence the way Sports Basement, which is in contract to acquire the building, uses the site, according to Killilea.
Sports Basement is currently planning to create a 71,000 square-foot sports equipment discount store on the Milvia Street site, but still has to get its environmental review (CEQA) approved and complete the zoning process. If the ballot measure passes, and the city recognizes the need to continue having recreation facilities in that spot, Sports Basement might need to restore and reopen the ice rink, Killilea said.
“The main thrust of it is to make sure when the city evaluates plans it takes into account that Berkeley Iceland was a community recreational resource,” said Killilea. “It should be again. It could be again. We want to make sure the community’s needs get included in the review.”
The Zoning Appeals Board is scheduled to review Sports Basement’s environmental review report and application for a change of use at the space on Thursday April 26th at 7 pm. While the company will probably gets its application approved before voters have a chance to vote on the ballot measure, Killilea predicted that the project will be appealed. It will take time to wind though that process and that is when the ballot initiative would apply, he said.
Sports Basement said it has no plans to include an ice rink in the renovated building, but will make space for community events
“Sports Basement is a local business with a very big community and recreation emphasis,” said David Rumberg, a partner. “We know Tom Killilea and the folks from Save Berkeley Iceland. They are part of the larger Berkeley Community and we have done our best to keep them in the loop in regards to our plans. We share a common interest in both serving the Berkeley community and preserving a very neat building. However, preservation of the ice rink is not in our plans.”
The petition drive is yet another example of the tenacity of Save Berkeley Iceland, which has tried myriad ways to preserve the historic Art Deco ice rink built in 1940. When the city forced the rink to close in 2007 after its owners, the Zamboni family, declined to upgrade the rink’s leaking refrigeration unit, Save Berkeley Iceland entered into a contract to revitalize the space. Those plans fell through, but the group was instrumental in getting the building put on Berkeley’s historic register in 2007 and making it eligible in 2010 to be listed on National Register of Historic Places. It also pushed for an alternative development plan, one in which a builder would construct houses on part of the property and keep the ice rink open.
Sports Basement is planning to include multiple community spaces in the remodeled building, although the ice rink will be filled with dirt and covered up, according to the company’s environmental report. A number of the bleacher seats will also be removed, although some will be restored for use in the community spaces.
Sports Basement plans to build a mezzanine area in the building. It also wants to remove the earthen berms that partially cover the north and south ends of the building to make room for more parking, according to the environmental report. The building’s façade will largely remain the same since as a historic structure, it cannot be changed.