Ducks close in on approval for four Great Park ice rinks, team training facility

IRVINE – Grand, unrealized plans are the hallmark of the beleaguered Orange County Great Park.

But one of those long-debated proposals – the construction of a 270,000-square foot public ice facility and Anaheim Ducks training center, in a region where interest in ice-based sports is growing – might soon become reality.

On Tuesday, the Irvine City Council will consider a proposal by the Ducks to, via a new nonprofit organization, erect a community ice complex with four rinks at the Great Park. Councilman Jeff Lalloway said it will cost $30 million to $40 million to build and, according to city staffers, would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

After the lease expires, up to 50 years after the building is constructed, the facility would become city property for $10.

City staff have recommended the council approve the lease under the condition that H&S Ventures, the company that manages the club owned by Henry and Susan Samueli, hire a consultant to study the environmental impacts of the facility because of its bigger-than-expected footprint.

Ten years after the city was given the land for the Great Park, roads and infrastructure necessary for the rink are finally being built, ending years of waiting on behalf of the Ducks, who have a growing high school hockey league.

“For years, no one had confidence that there was going to be a Great Park,” Lalloway said. “I think it’s important that a regional icon like the Ducks has determined we’re moving forward with the park. That’s really exciting.”

With four sheets of ice on about 13.5 acres in the western portion of the park, the complex would ease competition for rink space in Orange County for amateur players.

“We’re absolutely jam-packed in all of our rinks in Orange County and in the L.A. area,” said Michael Schulman, the Ducks’ chief executive officer. “The sport is growing, but it’s limited by how many ice rinks there are.”

The Ducks would train there when the club’s primary practice space, Honda Center, is otherwise occupied.

The club’s interest in building rinks at the Great Park dates to 2005, when developer Lennar bought the bulk of the El Toro land from the federal government. Lennar then gave it to the city for a major metropolitan park in exchange for the right to build commercial and residential developments around the park.

The council first authorized negotiations between H&S Ventures and the city in January 2011.

But when no infrastructure or roads materialized in the area under consideration, the plan was put on hold. Now, construction at the park has picked up, and portions of the 175-acre Sports Park – a section of the 688 acres of the Great Park being brought online for the city by developer FivePoint Communities – is set to open by the end of 2016.

Schulman publicly reintroduced the ice facility proposal at a City Council meeting in September.

The project is “coming to the table at the perfect time,” Irvine Mayor Steven Choi said.

Under the current proposal, H&S would construct and operate the facility, putting in a minimum of $25 million. But spending will likely surpass that total, Schulman said in a recent interview at his Corona del Mar office.

The complex would be owned by the Irvine Ice Foundation, a new nonprofit organization being formed specifically to manage the facility. The Samuelis, through their Samueli Foundation, would fund the organization. Schulman would be managing director of the complex.

Construction on the multi-rink ice facility would start less than a year from now, in fall 2016. Opening day would be in January 2018.

Irvine would be on the hook for providing off-site overflow parking and adjacent infrastructure and utilities, but the management company would handle operations and maintenance, according to a city staff report.

During construction, H&S would rent the land from the city for $1 annually. After construction is complete and operating expenses are covered, annual rent to the city would be 25 percent of net revenue or $250,000, whichever is less.

An initial draft of the agreement had H&S paying only $1 annually.

“It’s easy to get all glittery-eyed about some name brand coming to the city, but our job is to negotiate the best public policy for our residents,” said Councilwoman Christina Shea, who disagreed with the previous proposal under which the city would get no share of the revenue. “I certainly see this as a prototype of what we’ll be looking at for future partnerships.”

Additional revenue would go toward supporting youth ice-based sports via the Irvine Ice Foundation.

Councilwoman Beth Krom said the proposed terms show the Ducks are serious about building a quality facility.

“There will be a lot of people looking to fulfill their dreams and aspirations at the Great Park, and I am certainly open to consider any good proposal, but a lot of people don’t really have resources to bring to the table,” she said. “We are working with a partner that has a reputation and has a lot of investments here in Orange County.

“The stakes for them are high as well. They’re not a fly-by-night operation.”

The proposed complex is larger than was discussed when talks between the club and the city began. That’s because one additional sheet of ice, with seating for 2,500, was added to the plans. (The other three rinks each seat about 500 spectators.)

Three sheets would be NHL-size; the fourth, an Olympic-size rink.

As many as 10 major events might be hosted annually at the rink with seating for 2,500, Schulman said.

The Great Park ice complex would increase by 40 percent the number of rinks, both ice and inline, operated by the Ducks in the greater Orange County area, Schulman said.

“We track the usage of our rinks, and pretty much every rink is at 100 percent capacity,” he said. “Five years ago, some were at 70 or 60 percent. We’ve reached a point where there’s no more room to grow without more rinks.”

Since its inception about five years ago, the Ducks’ high school program has grown from one team and one inline rink to 48 teams on seven facilities.

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said youth players will benefit.

“I’ve been to a lot of the rinks in Orange County, and some of them are old grocery stores and those kinds of things,” Getzlaf said. “It’s going to be nice to have a facility that can handle the foot traffic, the amount of ice kids need to progress in this game.

“Even talking to the guys who have kids that are playing already, they’re driving all over the place to try and find ice (at) five, six in the morning.”

In addition to the rinks, the facility would include some retail, a small restaurant, locker rooms, administrative offices and training space. Nearly 600 public parking spots and 68 private spots are planned. Across the street, FivePoint plans to develop a commercial center.

The complex would be open at least 7 a.m.-10 p.m. six days per week.

The lease on the finished complex would be as long as 50 years: an initial 25-year term plus five potential five-year extensions.

“Ultimately, the rink will be a gift from the Samueli family to the city of Irvine,” Schulman said. “They’ll have a great, beautiful building there, fully paid for.”

Staff writer Eric Stephens contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2221 or

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