City council ensures access to rinks for local youth to enjoy ice sports

From left: Gilroy City Administrator Jimmy Forbis and Mayor Marie Blankley stand where the new Sharks Ice rinks will be developed at the Gilroy Sports Park. Photo by Keira Silver

By Keira Silver

The Garlic Capital of the World is bringing a new flavor to town with an estimated $35-million partnership between the city of Gilroy and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

The project will construct two regulation-size National Hockey League rinks at the Gilroy Sports Park.

The city would build the 100,000-square-foot complex by issuing municipal bonds with guaranteed payments from Sharks Sports & Entertainment LLC, the Sharks’ parent company.

“We believe that an ice rink in Gilroy will serve as a tremendous recreational gathering place for the entire community,” said Jon Gustafson, senior vice president, SAP Center and Sharks Ice.  “With an already supportive fan base coming from the South Valley, we believe adding these rinks will only continue to build and strengthen our relationship with our fans and supporters in these fantastic communities.”

For several years, the Sharks have worked with community leaders to develop a strong fan base in the South Valley. Many ticket holders and participants of youth ice programs come from Morgan Hill and Gilroy, he said.

Sharks Ice manages rinks in San Jose, Fremont, and Oakland, which services youth and adult ice hockey leagues.

“By presenting an array of both advanced and introductory classes, programs and leagues for all ice sports at the Gilroy facility, we’ll provide another convenient location for our existing customers in the South Valley,” Gustafson said.

The site is now farmland growing tomatoes. The construction of the complex provides “real potential” for sports organizations to see all the Gilroy area has to offer tourists, and how affordable it is, said Frank Johnson, executive director of Visit Gilroy. The sports complex could also serve as “a spark” for future investments, he said.

“Our geography is an asset with prime coastal areas only about 40 miles away and population centers like San Jose, San Francisco and beyond within comfortable driving distance,” he said.

Local hotels and restaurants will see benefits, even during the construction phase, he said. As downtown Gilroy evolves, Johnson anticipates new businesses developing there.

“When you take stock of all we have to offer, Sharks Ice will provide motivation for new visitors, and Gilroy’s large inventory of traveler-pleasing assets will help complete their experience,” he said. “Buckle-up! The next few years will be very exciting! Come for the ice, stay for the garlic!

Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley said that the partnership between the city and the Sharks began in 2018 with discussions in the community. The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce and Visit Gilroy played an important role in promoting the project.

In 2019, the city and the Sharks entered into an exclusive negotiated agreement. COVID-19 delayed the negotiation. Discussion re-started in March 2021 with renewed interest from Sharks Ice. The opening of the facility is projected for late 2025 or early 2026.

The city owns 86 acres of land at the sports complex, and only a quarter of it is now developed. The ice rink will be the third phase of its evolution and will spur more development of the center, including a softball field and soccer field in the next phase, Blankley said.

“With the ice rinks, I certainly am hopeful that’s going to be the magnet to other recreational activities wanting to consider locating there,” she said. “So the sports park is going to be a true recreation center for the city of Gilroy.”

The city has begun progress in developing the site. It hired a project manager and started conversations with an architect, Blankley said.

The city council at the Aug. 21 meeting will vote to approve the project consultant whom the Sharks will most likely hire. A bond reimbursement agreement will also need to be approved to go to the voters.

“Now the debt will not necessarily have been issued yet, but we’re working on getting that infrastructure, those utility lines, and all that stuff now,” she said.

Sharks honor first responders from Gilroy Garlic Festival tragedy in 2019.
Photo courtesy NHL

Following the project’s expected timeline, the city’s utility improvements should be visible within the next six months. At that point, the Sharks will take charge and the facility is projected to be done in 18 to 24 months.

Jimmy Forbis, the city administrator, recognizes the importance for a Sharks facility in Gilroy because many ice hockey fans live in South Valley. He sees the partnership happening “organically.”

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how many Sharks folks live in our area. The owner of the Sharks also owns Cordevalle,” he said. “There was a demand, and there was some initiative by some people who just happened to be friends of friends. It’s really that simple.”

The city of Gilroy understands the importance of positively impacting and empowering the youth of the community by making sure they have access to the facility, especially because hockey and skating can be expensive for lower-income families, Forbis said.

From day one, the city’s motto in the discussion was, “If Gilroy kids don’t use it, we don’t want it,” he said.

“The Sharks have a history of providing free school visits,” he said. “Their facility in San Jose, I believe, has provided more than 10,000 annual free passes to kids . . .  They also have hockey leagues that are free to kids, equipment, everything provided. They have a very strong history of coming into communities, making sure the schools are involved and the kids are involved, regardless of economics. And so, that was really appealing to us when we started the discussion with them.”

Blankley sees the ice sports facility launching the Gilroy Sports Complex as a regional hub for recreational activities. The land was purchased by the city in 2000. Baseball and soccer fields have been developed.

“We’ve worked hard to make this happen,  and I personally have been walking this thing all the way until I had to step back and leave it in Jimmy’s hands,” she said. “So, I certainly am very, very, very proud that all of that effort has come to this. I’m really, really happy to see this coming along.”

The presence of the Sharks organization will stimulate business activity in the community, predicted Gilroy Chamber CEO Victoria Valencia.

“Just the name ‘Sharks’ draws attention and has given residents and business owners alike a renewed sense of hopefulness for what’s to come,” she said.

Keira Silver is a senior at Christopher High School. She wrote this story with mentorship from Morgan Hill Life publisher Marty Cheek.