Tuesday will be a big day for the city of Berkeley and especially for a little neighborhood in south Berkeley. Tuesday at 7pm the Berkeley City Council will hold a hearing on whether to allow Berkeley Iceland’s use permit to be changed from recreational to retail in order to usher in the city’s first big-box store to replace the historic ice rink which is located there, and has been closed since 2007.

While this may seem like a simple zoning issue for a property on Milvia between Derby and Ward, it isn’t. It’s a perfect example of how real estate is more than merely land and structures.

The argument to allow the use permit to go retail is simple and logical: this is a building that has been a vacant target for vandals since Berkeley Iceland closed its doors in 2007, and a large sporting goods store could bring some economic vitality to the neighborhood.

The argument to keep the use permit recreational is more layered. Berkeley Iceland is an historical landmark and during its 67-year life Iceland hosted the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships three times, served as the training rink for multiple Olympic gold medal winners — including Peggy Fleming, Brian Boitano, and Kristi Yamaguchi — as well as the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, California Golden Seals, and 1994 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team.

This is where the story gets more personal. Like many Berkeley natives, I learned to skate at Iceland as a child. As an adult I worked there for several years, learned to play hockey there, learned to drive a Zamboni there (which still looks great on a resumé), and, most importantly, I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had there.

Anyone who’s been a regular at a rink will tell you that it’s a special place. It may be a business, but it becomes a sanctuary from the outside world for those inside. You slap on some skates and it cleanses the palate of your bad day at school or work. You make friends quickly as you have a common passion for something that is more than a bit of a novelty in California…ice.

The people at a rink become like a family. In fact, off the top of my head I can think of three close friends who met their spouses at the rink. There is a group called Save Berkeley Iceland that is committed to preserving 2727 Milvia Street as a recreational facility (hopefully an ice rink again) so that more generations can have a home away from home.

All this serves as a very clear reminder of why people become so passionate about four walls and a ceiling. Once in a while property is just property, but more often than not it becomes an extension of who we are.

Berkeley City Council Hearing on Berkeley Iceland Use Permit Change:

  • When: 7 PM, Tuesday, September 11, 2012
  • Where: Berkeley City Council Chamber, 2134 ML King Jr Way

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John Corten is a Berkeley native and a Realtor at Better Homes & Gardens/Mason-McDuffie.
John Corten is a Berkeley native and a Realtor at Better Homes & Gardens/Mason-McDuffie.

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