SAVE THE CIVIC – PLAY HOCKEY!

Yeah, it sounded kind of crazy to me too, when this guy took the microphone at one of the public input meetings of the Santa Monica Civic Working Group, the “panel of nine” appointed to find solutions for reopening our historic auditorium, and uses for the area surrounding it. He introduced himself as Daryl Evans and said he was with the LA Kings.

So we’re there talking about soccer fields and no-hotels-thank you, here at the beach in Santa Monica (jogging, swimming, walking, tennis, basketball, beach volleyball), it’s warm outside, as usual, and this guy’s talking about ice rinks?

But before long quizzical expressions in the audience turned into some affirmative nodding. The notion: build the athletic field so many were there to support, but perched on top of a ground-level ice rink.

Evans said it was definitely doable, that blah blah blah people in Southern California love to skate (they do, I guess, just not me), and it would generate some healthy revenue.

Well! There you go, the magic words, Daryl, because our very expensive consultants have been pushing from Day One for us to choose which options we “need” to pay for the renovations: large, medium or small hotel, how many office buildings, mixed use retail, how many restaurants? Giving short shrift to the overwhelming consensus of the public at each meeting I attended (all but one) that rejected such “solutions” and wanted more options and information on alternative ways to fund.

A hockey rink? That sounds pretty alternative.

Evans, it turns out, was a King player from 1981-85, and later coached the UCLA Bruins for two years, taking them to the national finals. He’s now the Kings’ Power Skating Consultant (what a job title!) and has announced their games on radio for 16 years. So, not just some guy who took the mic. He did plant a seed.

After a few weeks of missed connections he finally got hold of Group member Phil Brock, chair of our Recreation and Parks Commission and charged with Santa Monica’s green space, and told him a meeting was available Monday with Luc Robitaille, NHL Hall of Famer and record holder and, more importantly, a top gun with the Kings, their President of Business Operations. Brock invited Group member Jodi Summers and yours truly (that’s so cornball but I’ve always wanted to write it) to the meeting at the Kings’ El Segundo training facility (shared by the Lakers).

So finally, after all these years of starving and enduring abuse, my journalism degree pays off: I get to stand on the same floor that Kobe Bryant practices on (gets there at 4:30 a.m. many mornings, a staff member told me). Seriously, even in the midst of Laker Armageddon, it made me very happy. I picked up a basketball that almost certainly Kobe dribbled and shot, but clever fellow though I am, I could not figure out a way to steal it. Rats.

The tour we got of the three rinks (all with many skaters, from kids to Kings) and one basketball court, all the training and video viewing and locker rooms, was fun, but I was interested in the conversation between Luc and Jodi and Phil.

Robitaille impressed me with his thoughtful discussion. He seemed neither to be pushing something, nor playing for advantage.

I’ve learned that ice-skating does have a long history in Santa Monica. Ice Capades Chalet operated from 1966 until 1983, when Fred Segal turned it into their store. Dorothy Hamil trained there, Tai and Randy, many other stars and champions. The “Rockford Files” filmed there, and “Rocky” and Adrian had their first date there. We’ve all seen how popular our seasonal rink Downtown became. Now with the Culver City rink closed, there’s nothing for miles.

“We’re definitely looking to build rinks, and we think Santa Monica’s a home run,” said Robitaille, a resident here for 13 years. “Very intriguing, because it’s already a high-end sports training center. We started our first high school league last year,” he told us, “eight teams, which we plan to expand to 30.”

The Kings’ master plan, he said, relies on fostering talent at the local level, and that requires rinks. “LA has very few. Indoors, year around – only Pasadena and Van Nuys.

“We are looking at building in Sylmar, and Reseda, and the space you would have available there [at the Civic] would work perfectly,” he said.

“Roller hockey on the beach in Santa Monica goes way back, and in the early ’90s the NHL ran a tournament there,” Robitaille related. “But right now, in the world of hockey,” he said, “California is the top state.”

This is early stages of discussion and I’m not even positive I’m completely sold on the idea, but it sure is worth pursuing. Sports and the arts together equal entertainment, so they’re in the same ballpark philosophically, and perhaps should be literally. The benefits of athletic participation, by all ages, are overwhelmingly positive. Real community benefits.

We’ll have to see what kind of deal the Kings might offer, but I hope they are as interested as Robitaille seemed to indicate. Two other big advantages to that partnership: the Kings own the Galaxy, LA’s very popular pro soccer team – what a great tie-in for the athletic field. And they’re all owned by AEG, one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the world. Who knows what the mutual benefits might be, with the Civic reopened, and the Greek Theater and Barnum Hall just across the street at Samohi? OK, now I’m getting excited.

WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT MUSICALS?

Enough to know that the Ruskin Group Theater has a hit on their hands in “Sneaky Ole Time,” their new production opening Saturday. I went to a dress rehearsal, admittedly with low expectations, and was knocked out. Built around the hit songs of Paul Overstreet, it takes the clich√©s about commitment and marriage and turns them every which way in a Tennessee honky tonk Twilight Zone setting that keeps your wondering and smiling. Great cast, terrific live band, clever, funny book, perfect direction. Yeah, I liked it.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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