Public Comment

Berkeley Iceland--There Are Better Alternatives than Sports Basement

By Tom Killilea / Save Berkeley Iceland
Wednesday July 27, 2011 - 02:52:00 PM

The preservation of Berkeley Iceland, a major goal of Save Berkeley Iceland, was solidified in the Summer of 2010 when the California State Historical Resources Commission found the building eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. At the same time the rink was listed on the State Register of Historical Resources. This reaffirms the 2007 landmark designation by the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission. While the preservation of the building is secure, the future of Berkeley Iceland as a community asset is still threatened. 

In the Spring of 2010, two offers were made for the building which represented two different developments: 

  • Sports Basement, operator of large discount sporting goods stores with plans to convert site to a large retail operation – no skating or community center in the development.
  • San Francisco housing developer with designs by a UC architect to build low-impact housing on the North and South wings and restoration of the rink and public area.
Since mid-2010, East Bay Iceland (EBI), the current owners of Berkeley Iceland, has worked exclusively with Sports Basement, a chain of big-box sporting goods stores. After fighting a losing battle against landmark and historic designations which prevented the total destruction of Berkeley Iceland, EBI choose to work with an organization whose business model would ensure that a rink would be unlikely to ever open in the building again. 

Sports Basement’s plan to create a 71,000 square foot store in the Berkeley Iceland site radically changes the character of the neighborhood. Rather than serving as a healthy, fun sports facility, it will become a place principally for selling. Instead of families and groups coming to spend time together in a welcoming environment, there will be crowds of individual shoppers coming and going without really being part of the community. Rather than the patterns of pickup and drop-off, there will be buyers in cars looking for parking. Instead of a community center, a store. This is an odd legacy for EBI, a company owned primarily by the Zamboni family, a name synonymous with ice sports. 

Prior to EBI entering into exclusive discussions with Sports Basement, the SF developer with a plan including restoration of the rink made an offer for Berkeley Iceland. This project involved some modification of the North and South sections for housing, and provided a path to renovation of the rink and Milvia St. entryway for a community ice center. After following recommendations of EBI's agent to firm up designs and introduce them to key Berkeley groups (including a well received presentation to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association - BAHA), the developer was told that EBI had entered into an exclusive arrangement with Sports Basement. Rather than provide the opportunity for a project which would restore a needed recreation facility and provide new housing, EBI choose a path which will remove that option. 

Sports Basement has been looking to put a store in Berkeley for a few years. They pride themselves on contributing to the community. I don't believe the move into Berkeley Iceland reflects the approach to the community they espouse or that the location is suitable for a large retail operation: 

  • Berkeley Iceland is not in a major business district.
  • Public transportation to the site for shoppers is problematic. Access from the freeway and major traffic routes is difficult.
  • Surrounding streets are not well traveled and, with Curvy Derby coming, easily clogged.
  • Parking during the day is challenging.
These issues all at the same time raises questions of sustainability and impact on the neighborhood. 

There are alternative locations for Sports Basement which would better serve Berkeley, and probably Sports Basement. Sports Basement reportedly attempted to lease the old Ross site at the corner of Alston and Shattuck.. What better way to help invigorate an ailing downtown than to have a model retailer anchor a key site which has been empty for years. Other spaces in West Berkeley, closer to the freeways, sports fields, and Bay Trail with ample parking, would be easier to develop and more accessible for their target customers in the greater East Bay. 

These alternatives make more sense than a store more than 50% larger than Berkeley REI with less parking than Monterey Market in a predominantly residential neighborhood. 

Alternatives exist. Sports Basement has other options to enter the Berkeley market that make more sense. Viable options exist for development of the Berkeley Iceland site which restore the community recreation ice center as part of a mixed-use, environmentally friendly development which compliments the neighborhood. The Berkeley community needs to let Sports Basement, EBI, and CIty leaders know we need Berkeley Iceland back!