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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ice Business

The Los Angeles Kings finished in sixth place in the NHL’s Western Division this year, but in terms of business expansion, the team has a hot winning streak.The Kings organization has made aggressive moves in the ice rink business, particularly in the North Los Angeles market. Most recently, the team in April partnered with American Sports Entertainment Centers and the city of Santa Clarita to reopen The Cube Santa Clarita Ice and Entertainment Center after a tumultuous pandemic year.Formerly called Ice Station Valencia, the site, located at 27745 Smyth Drive, was forced to close in March of last year along with myriad other non-essential businesses following the COVID-19 outbreak. During the closure, which was supposed to be a time of renovations, founding owner Roger Perez fell into contention with his former partner and began to seek an outside entity to acquire the 20-year-old business. After a few false starts that included an offer from the Kings, the city of Santa Clarita purchased the 93,000-square-foot venue for $14.5 million in August.At the facility’s grand opening on April 11, Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda, former NHL star and Kings President Luc Robitaille talked up the venue to hockey fans, figure skaters and anyone else in earshot.“I did everything I could not to sell it to the next Walmart,” Perez said. “I talked to a lot of people who wanted to convert it. My goal was that another hockey operation should take it over. When the city bought it, I was hoping they would bring it back under that same family orientation.”The partners plan to turn The Cube into a completely new rink and entertainment hub. The goal, said Larry Bruyere, general manager of The Cube, is to finish the renovations by Labor Day weekend, when a major hockey tournament will unfold there.“The industry is very strong,” Perez said. “A lot of people love to play hockey and all it takes is what we did – focus on playing hockey. It’s a fantastic sport.”Perez, a Sherman Oaks resident, said that to run a successful ice rink, “the very first thing you must harness is your schedule. Everybody wants prime time.”To minimize that, a rink must “keep the door open every day,” Perez continued. “In 20 years, there were only two or three days when we had to close. You heard of the Motel 6? Just keep the light on.”Portfolio of venuesIn the last few years, the Kings have acquired the Burbank rink at 1001 W. Riverside Drive, now dubbed L.A. Kings Ice at Pickwick Gardens. They also have L.A. Kings Valley Ice Center in Panorama City, which is located at the NewMark Merrill Cos.-owned Plaza del Valle shopping center at 8750 Van Nuys Blvd.Additionally, the Kings plan to construct a presence in Reseda, a project championed by Councilman Bob Blumenfield, to be known as the Reseda Ice Rink.“The ice rink we’re building is part of my larger ‘Reseda Rising’ initiative, which is bringing in more than $100 million of economic development investments to this traditionally under-resourced community,” Blumenfield said in a statement. “By cobbling together more than $27 million dollars to build this rink, including Prop K funds and former CRA bond funds and by bringing in the hockey legend Luc Robitaille and the L.A. Kings as an equity investor and as the operator, we’ve made this unique project possible.”Blumenfield noted that the Kings’ rink will be the only city-owned ice rink operating in Los Angeles and will fit into the Valley’s history of having popular ice and roller rinks.

“As the pandemic slows down and vaccination rates grow, kids and adults alike are looking for family friendly, affordable, things to do,” Blumenfield added. “Whether it’s a youth hockey team, ice skaters in training, or folks who’ve never put on skates before, the Reseda Ice Rink will be for our entire community.”While the Kings have gained a dominant presence in the ice business, Perez, as the Santa Clarita rink’s former owner, questions the organization’s long-term strategy.

“The L.A. Kings are the worst company for the growth of hockey,’’ he said. “The growth of hockey starts at the very, very young kids. What they do is they come in under the guise of helping the kids but in reality, they want to sell nosebleed tickets (at Staples Center).”As for the proposed rink in Reseda, “it hasn’t happened after seven years,” Perez added. The venue is currently a vacant lot on the south side of Sherman Way between Etiwanda and Lindley Avenues.Big CubeThe Cube is comprised of a three-sheet rink. One is an NHL-sized sheet for hockey, another is Olympic sized figure skating and the third is a small rink. Among the classes and programs offered at the site: youth hockey league, adult league, skating lessons, public sessions, daily evenings freestyles for figure skaters and fun sessions such as broomball and curling.Janine Prado, director of Recreation and Community Services for the city, envisions the site beyond just its ice-skating function.“In skating, it had its customers – figure skaters, curlers,” she said. “We look at opening it up to everybody, maybe that first-time skater.”She said that rooms within the complex will make for great spaces for ballet and yoga sessions and even people with absolutely no interest at all in ice skating may come to eat.“The city (of Santa Clarita) made the bold decision to buy the property,” Bruyere said. “The city has a lot of input – they own the building, they have a vested interest. They put another $2 million into (the Cube’s renovation) and expect a return.”Return businessBruyere said that since April, he has witnessed a combination of regulars and new people come through The Cube’s doors.“The numbers are increasing every week,” Bruyere said. “Since June 15 when the governor said take the masks off and CDC agreed, it has really (ramped up).”As part of the makeover, a new tenant, owner of the long-running, recently shuttered Maria’s Italian Deli in Newhall, has been brought into to run the main restaurant, Grill at the Cube. Also, the back part of the restaurant will become a much larger horseshoe-shaped bar with six big television screens, a sports lounge and a tavern selling beer, wine and appetizers.

Both the restaurant and the pro shop – a holdover from the Ice Station – will be ready by Labor Day Weekend, when 30 to 40 teams will converge for a hockey tournament.Bruyere confirmed Perez’s claim that the Ice Station had become an important economic stimulus to Santa Clarita Valley and a big feeder into local hotels and restaurants.“Without a doubt, that’s probably the main driver,” Bruyere said. “The facility was the second-largest driver behind Magic Mountain.”

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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