Effort to Save Iceland Rink Reports Some Progress

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 27, 2007

SaveBerkeleyIceland.org—the community based organization that came forward in January to preserve the 67 year-old historic ice-rink at 2727 Milvia St.—has so far raised $90,000 from six weeks of fundraising. 

Berkeley Iceland, which was recently landmarked, closed its doors on March 31 due to dismal profits over the last few years. It has been on sale for over a year with a price tag of $6.45 million. 

“We are still fundraising and proceeding with our plan to purchase the building and reopen the rink,” said Elizabeth Grassetti, president, University Figure Skating Club and a SaveBerkeleyIceland.org volunteer. 

“Our aim is to turn Berkeley Iceland into a community center. Make it a destination attraction to draw visitors to South Berkeley,” she said. “We want to create activities that families, skaters and other athletes can enjoy. ” 

University Figure Skating Club is an adult recreational ice-dancing club which used Berkeley Iceland before it closed down. Grassetti and her group now use the Oakland Iceland, which she said was more expensive. 

Donations are being accepted through the organization’s website. Information about preservation efforts is also being published in publications such as the Cal Alumni Newsletter. 

“A lot of former UC Berkeley students have used the rink to skate or play broomball on and have fond memories of the place,” said Grassetti. “The newsletter is a logical place to reach them.” Fundraising was also carried out in front of the rink before it closed. 

Tom Killilea, president of Bay Area Blades, told the Planet that the majority of donations had come from individuals rather than groups. 

“We are getting a lot of help from former rink users, a lot of whom want to remain anonymous,” he said. “We have had close to 1000 individual donations and the highest among them was for $5000. Kids are donating their allowance money and emptying out their savings accounts. One of our benefactors sent us money from Idaho because that’s the only thing her grand-daughter wanted for her birthday.” 

Killilea added that there had been a significant increase in figure skating at the Berkeley Iceland last year. 

“Iceland was in the news a lot in 2006. That at least helped people know that it existed,” he said. 

Killelea and other volunteers met with the owners of Berkeley Iceland Tuesday for the first time. “We know there are multiple bidders,” Killilea said, “but we are optimistic. A lot depends on the decision of owners.” 

SaveBerkeleyIceland.org has also met with Mayor Tom Bates in the past to discuss funding options. 

“We are not asking for a grant but for a loan,” said Grassetti. “Mayor Bates told us that a loan might be available. However, we have to do more work and give our plans better shape.” 

In an e-mail to the Planet, chief-of-staff to the mayor Cisco DeVries said that Bates had held a number of conversations with people interested in preserving Iceland. 

“It is the mayor’s position that our priority should be to try and preserve the rink,” he said. “The mayor believes it would be quite difficult for the City to purchase the rink outright, but that it may be possible for the City to be a partner with other organizations in that effort.”  

DeVries added that the “city has no specific funds identified to put towards Iceland at this time.”