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New Rink Is First to Open in 30 Years

June 12, 1992|JOHN MORELL

In a converted warehouse next to the landing path of Van Nuys Airport, the San Fernando Valley's first new ice rink in 30 years opened in January in North Hills. Iceoplex, which is owned by a Los Angeles based investment group known as Ice Specialty Entertainment that includes Los Angeles Kings star Luc Robitaille, froze the ice for the first time just before the Winter Olympics.

"Ice skating always hits a peak about every four years to coincide with the Olympics," said Susan Berens, manager of the facility. "It's really free publicity for the ice rinks. The kids watch TV and want to become the next Kristi Yamaguchi or they want to help the U.S. hockey team win a gold medal."

At the end of May, the rink held a grand opening celebration where several of the Kings stars skated in an exhibition game and visitors got to meet some of the rink's resident pros, such as figure skater Tai Babilonia.

Berens says it took the owners five years to find a suitable site for the rink. "They wanted to build it in an existing building in an area where ice sports would be popular. It's very expensive to build and maintain an ice rink, which is probably why it's taken so long to have a new one in the Valley."

About 95% of the skaters enrolled in the Iceoplex skating school haven't had experience on ice before. "I think that shows there are a lot of people in this part of the Valley, adults and children, who want to be skaters," Berens said.

Iceoplex features a restaurant with windows that look down on the ice, as well as a pro shop and rental desk. "So far, it seems as though whenever you come here we're busy. Skating is big business here," she said.

In addition to the skating school and youth hockey, there's a speed-skating school, men's hockey teams are forming and there's a league for broomball, which is played like hockey without skates, a ball for a puck and brooms instead of sticks.

Open only six months, the new arena appears as though it's always being used by somebody.

"The ice is generally reserved from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., and that includes the public skating times," Berens said. "We've had occasions where the guy closing up is leaving and the guy opening up walks in the door. He doesn't even get a chance to put the alarm on."

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