Can family-friendly outdoor skating smooth out some of the Venice boardwalk’s rough edges?

By Gary Walker

(UPDATE: The commission unanimously approved the ice rink.)

For the second time in two years, supporters of a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink near Windward Plaza Park are taking the idea before the California Coastal Commission.

The commission, which controls beachfront development and cited maintenance issues in shooting the proposal down in September 2014, was slated to take up the proposal once again on Jan. 13.

The ice rink would operate between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day on a beach platform south of the LAPD’s Venice Beach substation. It would measure 100 feet long by 50 feet wide (5,000 square feet), with two 16-foot light and sound towers, 16 32-foot LED light poles and a pair of modular offices for skate rentals and operations, according to commission documents.

Supporters, including the Venice Chamber of Commerce and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, see the ice rink as an opportunity to generate positive activity on the boardwalk, an international tourist destination struggling to overcome a reputation for criminal activity and outbursts of violence.

Detractors, including a majority of the Venice Neighborhood Council, argue it’s a bad fit for Venice Beach.

In Santa Monica (which many locals are quick to point out isn’t Venice), the seasonal ICE Santa Monica skating rink has been a big hit, attracting an estimated 58,000 visitors in the three months of its season beginning in November 2014, according to Downtown Santa Monica Inc. spokesman Kevin Herrera.

Bonin wants to inject Venice with a similar success story.

“Despite being a major attraction in the city, Venice has become frayed around the edges. The city and community are fighting perceptions that Venice is unclean and not family friendly … [and] the reality of serious public safety issues, particularly at night and including the area around Windward Plaza,” Bonin writes in a Jan. 5 letter to state Coastal Commission members.

“New energy and caring, both at night and during the day, will create forward momentum. It will draw more visitors seeking family-friendly activities, attract more local residents for fun activity, increase beach access, improve the local economy and provide a new funding source for additional support services at the beach,” the letter continues.

Gail Rogers, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ocean Front Walk Committee who has lived near the boardwalk for 40 years, opposes the skating rink as conflicting with Venice’s history and culture.

“Aesthetically speaking, I can’t see it as a beach attraction. Beach to me is sand and palm trees — beige, green and coral — not silver and icy,” said Rogers. “We’re in an energy crisis and a water shortage. Why do we need an ice rink that will require massive amounts of energy to keep it maintained? And it is important that City Council members take the votes of their neighborhood councils seriously.”

Although the neighborhood council’s Ocean Front Walk and Visitor Impact committees backed the rink concept in 2014, the full neighborhood council opposed the idea by a vote of 11 to 6.

Restaurateur Tom Elliot, owner of the Bank of Venice on Windward Avenue and the beachfront Venice Ale House, supports positive activity along the boardwalk but isn’t completely sold on ice skating.

“Conceptually, doing something in wintertime to attract more people to the boardwalk is a good thing. I’m just not sure that an ice skating rink is it,” Elliot says.

Ice rink supporter Melissa Diner, a member of the Ocean Front Walk Committee, says she understands that an ice rink may not be for everyone but challenges naysayers to bring alternatives to the table.

“It’s a positive activity that could further activate the boardwalk in the evening hours,” Diner says of ice skating on the beach. “People have to realize that this is a temporary ice rink. Just saying no to everything without offering something better is not a solution.”

Check our website for an update on the California Coastal Commission’s decision.