As of now, it appears that the Los Angeles area market still has room for more ice.

"We'll be opening in August, but already we're getting lots of calls from people wanting to book ice time," said Alan Deglin, a projects director at Recreation World Inc., parent company of Ice Chalet Inc., which is spending $2.5 million to convert a defunct Panorama City bowling alley into an ice rink. The facility is meant to replace a North Hollywood Ice Chalet destroyed in the 1994 quake.

Deglin said the company chose Panorama City for its new rink because it is "heavily residential, though there is not much in the way of family entertainment in the area. Plus the mayor's Business Team is targeting the area for improvement."

As the 1998 winter Olympics approach, rink officials believe ice time will grow even tighter, mainly because of the growing popularity of ice sports among women.

"For the first time, women's hockey will be an Olympic sport," said Sekata, "which is probably going to bring in a lot more girls."

Local enthusiasts say the number of rinks in the L.A.-Orange County area dwindled from 50 or so in the late 1960s to about 30 today largely because lagging interest and rising land values in the late 1980s led many rink owners to close their doors and convert to other uses.

Whether the reborn popularity of rinks will lead to many more rinks is not yet clear.

The cost for a rink and its cooling system is usually around $300,000 to $400,000, according to one supplier. So depending whether a complex will house one or two ice rinks, perhaps a roller rink and other forms of entertainment such as arcades and restaurants, the cost of a new arena can vary widely. The Easy Street Arena, with two ice rinks and a roller rink, built in the shell of an old building, cost $3.5 million. Sebastian, the rink consultant, said he has helped companies who built rinks in tents for less than $1 million.

While the rinks often require a great deal of overhead, and utility bills for the ice can be high, busy rinks these days often earn about 12 percent a year on their investments, according to Mike Sebastian, president of Center Ice Consultants, a rink development firm in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"In a lot of areas throughout the nation, people are finding that ice rinks can be good investments," Sebastian said. He explained that until a few years ago, municipalities had commonly been proprietors of local ice rinks. However, frustrated over scarce ice time, people began pooling money and building rinks with civic as well as investment purposes in mind.

Sebastian said insurance for the rinks is not a major expenditure. First, he said, the need for coverage is often mitigated by the standard practice of requiring that waivers be signed by amateur hockey league players the skaters most prone to on-ice injuries and that insurance rates have even decreased in recent years due to competition among insurers.


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