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WALL STREET, CALIFORNIA | COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE

Leisure Suite

Sports-plexes go for the gold by putting more under one roof.

July 28, 1998|MORRIS NEWMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Lewises of Granada Hills are just the kind of people builders of sports entertainment centers--a new hybrid in retail development--are looking for.

The family of four spends much of its leisure time at the North Hills Rollerplex and Iceoplex, a three-building center fashioned out of former warehouses in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

Anthony Lewis, president of a film production company, coaches the bantam-league roller hockey team of his 12-year-old son, Cameron. When practice is over, Cameron doffs his helmet and immerses himself in the iridescent computer graphics and ricocheting noise of the video arcade.

Far from the din of electronic games, 16-year-old Kimberly practices figure skating, while her mother, Sharon, also skates.

"It can be an entire day spent in activity, without lapse," said Anthony.

In his opinion, Van Nuys-based Ice Specialty Entertainment, the developers of Iceoplex, have "made a wholesome, enjoyable environment, where children can develop in sports and learn very positive ways to interact with other people."

The sports entertainment center or multiplex represents one strand of a diversifying retail industry that targets the preferences of distinct consumer groups. Borrowing a concept from multiscreen movie theaters, developers have learned that otherwise ordinary attractions such as ice-skating rinks can become much more attractive when other sports activities are offered under the same roof.

While the idea of combining family-oriented sports is not a new one--promoters have often combined bowling, pool tables and video arcades in a single building, for example--the new crop of sports centers differs in the massive scale, the dependence on crowds of customers and the combination of several large-scale attractions.

"We are not just an ice-skating rink anymore," said Susan Berens, vice president of Ice Specialty. "We are going after the entertainment dollar, and that's where the whole industry is heading. It is very seldom that you see someone just open an ice-skating rink anymore."

Iceoplex is not alone. In Monrovia, developer Richard Hale plans to build City Skate, a larger and more extravagant sports entertainment center consisting of two NHL-regulation-size skating rinks, a third rink for roller skating and a fourth rink for either skating or indoor soccer.

In addition, Hale plans a rock-climbing area, a laser tag attraction, a fitness gym, a sports pro shop, nine party rooms and even study rooms complete with computer connections, to enable children on school skating teams to finish their homework. A McDonald's restaurant has leased space in the development.

"We are the Disneyland of sports," Hale said.

The growing popularity of both figure skating and youth hockey is the springboard for skating-oriented centers like Iceoplex and City Skate. Both facilities have signed agreements with youth hockey leagues.

The presence of professional and college teams further adds to the glamour of the ice rinks: The Los Angeles Kings practice at the Iceoplex, while the USC hockey team has made a commitment to both practice and play at City Skate.

In Orange County, developers are negotiating with the city of Anaheim to build the Gotcha Glacier, the world's first indoor snowboarding field, near the Angels' Edison International Field.

The four-story, $40-million structure would contain a 100-foot mountain, two 250-yard, half-pipe snowboard runs built to Olympic standards and a 1,150-seat spectator area, as well as a skateboard park, a roller hockey rink and a variety of shops and restaurants.

Glacier Sports Center of America, based in San Juan Capistrano, is negotiating with Forest City Development on the final terms of the deal. Cleveland-based Forest City is the city's designated master developer for the stadium area.

"The trend in retail is to break out those activities that will attract the largest draw" of people with certain entertainment preferences, according to developer Michael Lutton, president of PLC, a Newport Beach-based developer of entertainment-oriented shopping centers outside of California in partnership with Edwards Cinemas and J.P. Morgan.

"If I am a big hockey fan or a big skater, this is the activity where I am going to further [my skills] or spend my leisure time," Lutton said. For other people, that favorite activity may be going to movies, bookstores or home improvement stores.

The developer's goal in each of these themed centers is to encourage people to pursue several activities during a single visit, which can be "typically a four- to five-hour stay," he said.

Demand for sports centers is growing, according to developers. Though City Skate isn't scheduled to open until April, Hale said he's already been approached by several cities interested in creating similar facilities.

"We have plans of producing these all over," including in the San Fernando Valley, Hale said.

Iceoplex has plans too. "We have quite a few [projects] on the boards," including a possible Westside location, said Ice Specialty Entertainment's Berens. In addition, "we get phone calls almost every day from people who have rinks who want us to take them over."

Despite the high level of interest in sports entertainment centers in California, Lutton cautioned that the development fad might be strictly a warm-climate phenomenon, best suited for regions with a dearth of winter sports.

"Even though Southern California is a hotbed of experiments [in real estate development] that are originated here and are exported throughout the country, he said, "some things can succeed here and fail elsewhere."

An ice-skating complex "wouldn't work in Minneapolis," where such rinks are common, Lutton said.

"Our novelty is passe elsewhere," he said.

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