Whittier Narrows Dam repairs put Pico Rivera Sports Arena at risk of closure

Jessica De Nova Image
Saturday, May 4, 2024
Pico Rivera Sports Arena may be forced to close amid federal project
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to remove a road that provides key access to the Pico Rivera Sports Arena, forcing the beloved venue to shut down.

PICO RIVERA, Calif. (KABC) -- A historic sports venue in the San Gabriel Valley is in danger of closing because of a planned federal engineering project in the area.

Attenting rodeos, concerts and boxing matches at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena has been a Southern California tradition since the 1970s.

But the arena sits on federal government land and an upcoming Army Corps of Engineering project at the Whittier Narrows Dam may remove a road that provides access to the venue - and they aren't required to restore it once the work is over.

Leonardo M. Lopez, who has managed the venue for more than two decades, said he remains hopeful that alternatives can be developed to keep the facility open.

"We're sad," Lopez said. "We still got a few options, hopefully we can go through that with the help of the city and the politicians."

Lopez was referring to ways to keep Avenida Vicente Fernandez open. It's one of two roads to access the venue as required by the fire department to continue operations here.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to take out this road in 2025 as part of construction to improve the dam.

Whittier Narrows Dam is at risk of failing, which could pose a threat to 1 million people, according to the Corps of Engineers.

Corps of Engineers spokesperson Dena M. O'Dell said the road is not necessary to maintain the dam, and the Army is not authorized to restore or replace it.

"USACE has communicated this impact to Pico Rivera and explained that they can propose an alternative access route, at their expense. USACE is committed to coordinating with them on any alternatives they would like to consider," O'Dell said.

Arena staff say it has the capacity to seat 6,000 people at any given event, but also provides a larger economic impact.

Lopez said he employed 200 people directly, with events here boosting economies throughout the world.

Mayor Andrew Lara said he hopes congressional leaders step in to ensure the road returns and future generations can experience this part of Mexican-American culture.

"I see little kids with their cowboy boots, with their lassos, with their jeans and to me that represents cultural continuity, this culture being passed down to future generations and if this place is gone that's something you cannot generically recreate," Lara said.

"If that happens, it's gonna be very sad for the community for everybody involved in rodeos and show business and all that," Lopez said.

Major construction on the project is expected to be complete in 2030.