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Berkeley Iceland Up for Sale, Raising New Fears of Closure By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday February 28, 2006

Berkeley’s 66-year-old ice-skating rink is up for sale, but some fear it will close before new operators take it on.  

Berkeley Iceland owners East Bay Iceland, Inc. placed the rink on the market Monday for $6.45 million, citing an inability to meet the increased costs of maintaining the facility. 

The rink, at 2727 Milvia St., is operating on an administrative use permit that expires in April. If not extended or if new owners don’t step in, the rink will shut down. 

Berkeley Iceland was forced to revamp its refrigeration system in October, when it was discovered that it contained potentially hazardous ammonia. The city of Berkeley granted Berkeley Iceland an administrative use permit until April, allowing it to operate with a temporary cooling system. 

But as the permit deadline approaches, the owners have decided that rather than fund a new permanent system—which could cost about $500,000, according to East Bay Iceland, Inc. General Manager Jay Wescott—they’ll seek new investors. 

“With everything we’ve been through economically, it’s just not making sense anymore” for the owners to keep the facility, Wescott said. 

The property is being sold by Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services. Buyers would pick up the cost of a new cooling system to bring the rink up to city code.  

Wescott is currently beseeching the city to grant a use permit extension, under the premise that it will make the rink a more desirable sale. 

But some skaters fear the worst.  

“It’s horrible,” said Chris McLaughlin, who has been skating at Berkeley Iceland since the 1970s. McLaughlin plays pick-up hockey games at the rink up to three times a week. His children learned to skate there. 

He guesses new management will be difficult to come by, given the aging facility is in need of costly renovations. 

“I think most people who skate here would like to see it stay open, but I think that’s a long shot,” he said. 

Sharon Derr echoed his sentiment. 

“It’s a tragedy,” she said. “It’s been here for 66 years and now it’s going to be gone.” 

Since 1994, Derr has skated at Berkeley Iceland, where she also teaches skating lessons. If the rink closes, she’ll hit the ice in Oakland or Vacaville, but said neither rink is as desirable. 

Berkeley Iceland was founded in 1940. At 100 feet by 200 feet, Wescott said, it is a rare international-sized skating rink. It held the U.S. National Ice Skating Championships in 1947, 1957 and 1966, and has played host to the Ice Capades and roller derby matches. In the late 1980s, Brian Boitono rehearsed the Olympic programs that earned him gold in Calgary in 1988. 

It hosts myriad programs, including skating schools and hockey and broomball leagues. 

Wescott hopes the community connection will be a selling point. 

“My God, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of people who have learned to skate here,” he said. “It’s been an incredible asset to the community.”