Former San Mateo ice rink will not become retail space

Plans to tear down a former ice-skating rink in San Mateo and build retail spaces in its place were met with icy rejection by city officials this week.

But it remains to be seen whether the developer will now warm to the idea of reopening the rink, which has been closed since 2013.

The San Mateo City Council voted 3-0 on Monday to reject a proposed change to the master plan for Bridgepointe Shopping Center that would have allowed owner SPI Holdings to demolish the shuttered Ice Chalet ice rink and replace it with more profitable retail spaces.

The Ice Chalet was originally part of the Fashion Island shopping mall, which closed in 1996 and was torn down so Bridgepointe could be built in its place. When San Francisco-based SPI Holdings acquired the land, it came with a requirement that the Ice Chalet site would continue to be an ice rink or serve some similar recreational use.

In 2013, SPI opted not to renew the rink operator’s lease, and tried to move quickly on the rink’s demolition and redevelopment. But the property owner was met with heated resistance from community members.

SPI received multiple rebukes from the city’s Planning Commission as well. Last December, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended the City Council reject the developer’s request to change the land use from ice rink to retail.

Monday’s vote marked the City Council’s first opportunity to formally rule on the matter, but two council members recused themselves.

Councilwoman Maureen Freschet recused herself after rink supporters suggested her previous work as a fundraiser for an organization that accepted donations from SPI created a conflict of interest.

Councilman Rick Bonilla said he recused himself because his previous criticism of SPI when he sat on the Planning Commission could have given the developer a pretext for challenging Monday’s vote in court.

“At the time I was quite critical, and said several clearly unfavorable things about SPI,” Bonilla noted.

When Mayor Joe Goethals, Vice Mayor David Lim and Councilwoman Diane Papan voted unanimously to reject SPI’s proposed land use change, the council chamber — packed with ice rink supporters — erupted in cheers and applause.

But while SPI is prohibited from replacing the rink with stores, the city cannot force the developer to reopen the rink.

SPI representatives have previously said the company would let the building continue to sit empty rather than restart rink operations.

Dina Artzt, who launched the Save the Bridgepointe Ice Rink Committee, acknowledged Monday’s decision is therefore “a bittersweet victory.”

But Artzt’s husband, Len Rosenduft, said the city is now in a better position to negotiate an agreement with SPI to reopen the rink.

Goethals said city officials would “bend over backwards” to facilitate SPI reopening the rink, but he is investigating other options.

Owners of the historic Belmont Iceland skating rink announced in January they would soon close, and Goethals has met with Belmont and Foster City council members to discuss whether the towns can collaborate on a facility that would serve the entire region.

“If it were up to me, we would find a piece of public land large enough for two sheets of ice and then find an operator who felt they could operate the rink at a profit,” the mayor said.

Artzt said she has not given up hope that SPI founder Dennis Wong might reconsider his company’s refusal to reopen the rink.

“There’s someone who can make that happen, and that’s Dennis Wong,” Artzt said, “He can make it happen and be the good guy.”

Wong did not respond to a request for comment.

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