A subsidiary of the San Jose Sharks that is seeking city approval to build a multi-million-dollar ice rink in Pleasanton's yet-to-be-annexed Staples Ranch has reneged on a promise to provide a downtown holiday ice rink during the coming holiday season.
Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, in an interview with the Weekly, said she was notified by representatives of San Jose Arena Management (SJAM) that it could not install and operate the downtown rink this year unless the city agreed to help cover all financial risks associated with the operation, a financial obligation for the city that could range from nothing to as much as $200,000. That would be in addition to the underground electrical hookups, water and free space for the rink that the city already had agreed to donate.
Pat Kernan, an attorney for SJAM, said that the Shark's organization "in no way reneged on anything, but that there was just too little time to find sponsors for the project and we were too late in identifying a downtown location."
Kernan said SJAM will meet with city officials soon to plan an outdoor holiday ice rink and program for 2009.
"Obviously, we are disappointed about this year," Hosterman said. "We had held off on considering an earlier offer to provide a "Holiday on Ice" facility from another firm, similar to what Walnut Creek has, and now it's too late to grab that opportunity. We have no money set aside in our budget to finance this program."
City officials and downtown merchants had viewed the Sharks' subsidiaries' offer as a way to boost pedestrian traffic—and sales—in the holiday season where lackluster sales and a weak economy are damping hopes for a profitable shopping season. Initially, the rink was proposed to go on the parking lots next to the now-closed Domus retail store or Round Table Pizza on Main Street, but property owners refused the city's request, arguing that it would reduce off-street parking and possible holiday sales.
Instead, City Manager Nelson Fialho offered to make available half of the Pleasanton Library parking lot on Old Bernal Avenue for the two-to-three months that the rink would be operating. According to plans, the Sharks would open the rink during the Thanksgiving holiday week and operate it through early January.
Representatives of SJAM promised to install and operate the downtown rink at a City Council meeting in early September when the council gave tentative approval to a ground lease for a 7-acre site on a planned new community park on Staples Ranch. At the time, Don Gralnek, vice president and general counsel of Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment LLC, who represents San Jose Arena Management, accepted at the council's urging a plan to open the downtown holiday facility this year to demonstrate the organization's eagerness to provide a community facility.
Hosterman said that in her conversations with SJAM, the organization said it could not finance this year's holiday ice rink, but would agree to install and operate it in 2009 and beyond. By then, it is expected that the ground lease and actual construction plans for the four-rink ice facility will have been approved. The proposed 116,000-square-foot building, includnig parking lots, would occupy the 7-acre site in the new community park, public land that the Sharks would lease for $1 a year for 30 years. The organization operates all of the facilities associated with the Sharks, including the HP Pavilion where the hockey team plays, and "Sharks Ice" rinks in San Jose and Fremont, which are similar to what the group plans for Pleasanton.
Although the council at its Sept. 2 meeting agreed to let city staff negotiate the details of the ground lease, that contract has yet to be presented to the council for formal approval. The outdoor rink was one of the stipulations imposed by the council in its list of requirements in approving the ice rink ground lease. Other requirements include an agreement with the Pleasanton school district to provide ice time to physical education programs and school hockey teams and to offer discounts to Pleasanton residents when the new ice rink facility is opened.
Gralnek and Kernan indicated they would agree to the numerous stipulations imposed by the City Council, including providing the holiday ice program. Once written into the lease agreement, the contract would go back to the council within 90 days for final approval.
At that time, the project would begin the routine process of being reviewed by the city Planning Commission and then again by the council before construction permits could be issued.
The 7-acre site where the Sharks ice arena would be built lies east of where Stoneridge Drive currently terminates and west of El Charro Road, the eastern boundary of Staples Ranch. The facility would occupy a 17-acre community park, which the Sharks subsidiary also agreed to develop with sports fields and other amenities.
At the Sept. 2 meeting, the Sharks were also asked to make a substantial contribution toward more sports fields on the Bernal property to compensate the city for athletic fields the rink would occupy, and also to contribute to the downtown Firehouse Arts Center Foundation fundraising drive.
Staples Ranch is a 124-acre site at the southwest corner of I-580 and El Charro Road that is unincorporated and owned by Alameda County. Other developments planned for Staples Ranch include an auto mall at the northeast corner of the site at the I-580-El Charro Road interchange planned by Hendricks Automotive; a 600-800 unit independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care facility for seniors, planned by CLC Continuum, a Southern California-based senior care organization; and a retail store complex between the park and the auto mall, to be developed by Fremont Land developers.
In addition, the developers of these three parcels and the Sharks also will pay for a 5-acre neighborhood park on the western side of Staples that would be developed by CLC but maintained as a public park by the city of Pleasanton. It would include a 3.5-acre water runoff detention system.
The decision to cancel the downtown holiday ice program comes during difficult economic times facing retailers on Main Street and adjoining side streets. A group of merchants met behind closed doors Monday to voice their concerns that their own Pleasanton Downtown Association and city economic leaders aren't doing enough to bolster downtown businesses.