WALNUT CREEK -- Bocce ball courts, doubling as a site for the seasonal ice rink, may not find a home in Civic Park after city leaders say there seems to be no "enthusiasm" for the project.
On the council's wish list for the past few years, Walnut Creek City Council members wanted to spend one-time park money on projects that could be built quickly, and decided in three years ago to allocate $650,000 to build bocce courts that could be converted into the popular ice rink in the winter. The seasonal ice rink is currently put up every winter on a parking lot in Civic Park, but its organizers have clamored for years for a permanent home.
But after a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the rink and bocce courts, council members decided to take a step back.
"It just feels like (the passion) fizzled out," said Mayor Kristina Lawson, who was never a fan of the bocce-rink project, on Tuesday.
She noted that other groups, including aquatics, are "pounding down our door" with millions of dollars to help fix the city's failing pools.
The decision on how to spend the money -- which comes from park in-lieu fees developers pay and from regional parks bond money -- has long been batted around by city leaders. In 2011, council members said they didn't want to spend money on updating the master plan for Civic Park and instead wanted to get something built, specifically a permanent home for the ice rink. Then in 2012, a council majority supported an ice rink in the winter and bocce courts for the rest of the year. The city's Park, Recreation and Open Space Commission then recommended the City Council approve the project in December.
But now, citing lack of demand, the council wants to open the process up yet again, and perhaps put that money toward something the public wants more.
With agreement from the council, Councilwoman Cindy Silva said, the PRO's commissioners should meet with stakeholders such as the seniors club and ice rink supporters to gauge demand and their willingness to contribute money. The council also wants commissioners to weigh the need and cost of the bocce-rink project against all of the city's other park needs.
With more than 40,000 visitors a season, the outdoor rink has been in downtown's Civic Park since 2006 (it was at another site in 2005).
Neil Gerstner, planning commissioner who co-chairs Walnut Creek on Ice, said Tuesday that he is enthusiastic for the ice rink to be in Civic Park. But he also doesn't think the rink's location is in jeopardy. And while a permanent home for the rink would likely save some money on set up, the city has increased rent every year for the Civic Park space, and the rink has not always been profitable, he said.
"The biggest benefit will be to address the pent-up demand for bocce," Gerstner said.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Simmons said one reason, perhaps, bocce players are not championing the project is because the plan calls for four courts and bocce leagues usually need eight for games.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.