Ice rinks across the San Fernando Valley, longtime a locus of LA Kings fandom, have been in a state of flux for the better part of the last 25 years. The Ice Chalet at Laurel Plaza was hit hard by the Northridge Earthquake but didn’t meet its demise until 1995, a casualty of the shuttered mall that surrounded it and no longer supplied regular traffic. In its ashes rose what was eventually rebranded the LA Kings Valley Ice Center, a two-sheet facility planted on the opposite side of the 405 from the pristine Iceoplex, a campus that in its heyday featured two ice rinks, a roller rink and a McDonald’s – until a nationwide decrease in skating in the early 2000’s, along with competition from other new facilities, made profitability more difficult. Less than a decade after stars like Wayne Gretzky, Dave Taylor, Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne practiced at Iceoplex and resided in the comfortable neighborhoods south of Ventura Boulevard, the rink complex closed in 2001.
The ease and experience of playing hockey in the Valley is currently on an upswing through several community projects the LA Kings have invested in. Last year, the team and the City of Los Angeles jointly announced plans to construct a new city-owned, team-operated rink on Sherman Way as part of councilmember Bob Blumenfield’s Reseda Rising project, and the goal is for that rink to open in the next 18-to-24 months, per LA Kings CEO Kelly Cheeseman. Two months later, the Kings and American Sports Entertainment Company (ASEC) entered into a partnership with Pickwick Gardens Chief Executive Ron Stavert to renovate the 58-year-old ice rink on his nine-acre Burbank plot of land that has served as a home for skating, hockey, bowling, meetings and banquets since the Stavert family became owners of the property in 1955.
Though the rink has undergone renovations since then, it was badly in need of additional refurbishment – Pickwick was a finalist for Kraft Hockeyville USA funding in 2015 – and lacked the capital to make such improvements in the aftermath of the economic downturn late last decade.
The plot was zoned for commercial/recreation, and according to the LA Times was the only property in Burbank with such designation. As Stavert sought out community leaders for ideas and feedback that would fall in line with the recreational thrust, a conversation with the LA Kings commenced and ultimately led to an agreement in which the team and ASEC would invest money into the facility while assuming control of the rink’s operations and management.That work was completed this week, and on Wednesday, August 14 the facility re-opened as LA Kings Ice at Pickwick Gardens following a multi-phase improvement project that cost approximately $1,000,000. A commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony, kids clinic and free skate took place that afternoon and evening, with Kings forward Kyle Clifford joining a community consortium including Stavert, Cheeseman and a number of other builders and representatives that included Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, whose pride in the number of young girls attending the ceremony in hockey jerseys served as an example of the importance of community sports investment and the capacity to empower young women and those who might not otherwise be exposed to the sport.
Improvements to the facility included the removal and replacement of cold floor pipes; chiller re-building and upgrades; removal of heaved concrete and ice rink floor (to NHL acceptable tolerances); repair and renovation of the existing sub-floor heating system; installation of cold floor center feed headers and pipes; upgraded boards system and tempered glass; interior painting with LA Kings branding and graphics; and the installation of new exterior signage with LA Kings branding.
It’s a much sharper look from the outside and sleeker in the corridor between the entrance and the actual rink. Details of the renovations and the impetus behind the partnership are described below by Cheeseman and ASEC President Brad Berman and are complemented by a collection of shots from LA Kings photographer Adam Pantozzi.
Kelly Cheeseman, on how the partnership aligns with their San Fernando Valley outreach:
I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. I mean, you had a facility here that was in need for some upgrading and we were able to put a partnership together to help it survive and grow. Ultimately, this facility has incredible, historical impact in this city, which is really in the heart of LA, so to put this partnership together, we’re truly honored, because it is such a historic facility and I’m glad they called us.
Cheeseman, on how discussions began and the partnership took shape:
It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a few years really and Ron, Brad, Luc, myself have been having this conversation to figure out what’s the right mix, how do we work with the city and what are the opportunities now and in the long run and making sure we’re all aligned on that. At the end of the day, this is a facility that wants to survive and have a continual historic impact here, so for us to get involved on the ice rink side of things, it was a great joint venture together.
Cheeseman, on what the team’s business data says about the San Fernando Valley:
It’s the second biggest group of fans within our demos, so growing and having a long-term impact here is really important for us. There are lots of new families in the Valley, and for us to have an impact and a good brand opportunity here and Burbank, and also in the future in Reseda and hopefully other opportunities in the long run. You look at Topanga with LA Kings Holiday Ice, you can see that it’s a big part of our day-to-day plan.
Kyle Clifford, on whether he’s had any recent early morning practices as a hockey dad:
We’re kind of blessed right now, we’ve got 6 PM on Saturdays and 10 AM on Sundays, so no early wakeups yet, but I’m sure we’re going to be doing those road trips out to Anaheim or wherever the away games are going to be, in San Diego, they’re going to be early.
Clifford, on the joy of watching his children play hockey:
You kind of get to see if through a different set of eyes. I don’t remember when I was five, and to see them, the way they’re doing it – Cooper’s our youngest, the kid walks around and sleeps with a hockey stick, so it gives me a different perspective and I know Paige and I really enjoy it. She was a figure skater, so she’s always taking them out on the ice. She really wanted a girl, but she’s got her three hockey boys. I still think she really loves getting out on the ice and especially having them, it makes it even better.
Brad Berman, on refurbishing the ice surface:
You really don’t know what’s under there until you get under there, so we plan a basis for construction a rough order of magnitude and kind of take our experience. The floor itself, it’s been there over 20 years, it had some leaks and other issues, so as we continued going below the cold pipes and insulation, then there’s warm floor pipes. Well, we find out once we’re in there that they’re all no good. We’d only ordered the cold floor pipes, so once we got in there and realized that it doesn’t make sense to do this without refreshing those, we took care of that at the same time while all the dasherboards were being done, the new ceiling, the nets. The biggest challenge was that it’s 17,500 square feet and miles of piping.