San Diego Business Journal Tourism: City Council OKs Project By 8-1 Vote

With the San Diego City Council's recent approval, SeaWorld San Diego's campaign to expand and build taller structures will face one last vote this fall by the California Coastal Commission.

Now, SeaWorld's staff will work on how to present the projects to coastal commissioners, said Bob Tucker, a spokesman for the theme park.

It's expected to go before commissioners in October, when a 90-day waiting period on the projects ends.

At press time, the waiting period was expected to begin July 13. It begins when the City Council certifies the environmental impact reports for projects SeaWorld has scheduled for the next two to six years.

According to Tucker, if commissioners approve the projects, construction could begin in November on a roller coaster-like water ride and, in early spring, on a new education building.

In order to expand, SeaWorld has had to initiate changes in its master plan, part of the city's overall plan for Mission Bay Park. The park also had to overcome regulations on coastal property that limited new buildings to a height of 30 feet.

So far, the park has had to get approvals from San Diego voters, the city's Planning Commission and the City Council.

The latter came July 9 in an 8-1 vote that approved the master plan changes as well as passed a first set of projects.

The projects were rennovating the park's entrance, a new catering facility, and the education building, and water ride. The water ride's tallest point is 95 feet high.

Limits On Hotel

Also, SeaWorld had a 650-room hotel in its master plan and the council reduced it to 300 rooms and put a 10-year moratorium on it.

Council members also decreased the number of nights per year that the park could have fireworks to 150.

The Coastal Commission is scheduled to meet in San Diego in October. Since commissioners meet here twice a year, Tucker considers it good timing.

"It should work out well for San Diegans to be involved in the process, vs. if they were meeting in Los Angeles or Eureka," Tucker said. "We're fortunate in that regard."

Other presentations and statements regarding SeaWorld's project , some of them in opposition and others applauding elements of the expansion , are expected to be made when the Coastal Commission meets in October.

Dissenting Vote

Among those expected to speak is newly elected City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who represents the 6th District.

In 1998, as a community activist and business owner in Pacific Beach, Frye led the grassroots campaign against SeaWorld's expansion. The campaign's message was that the project would be visually damaging to Mission Bay as a natural reserve and would increase noise and traffic in the surrounding area.

Now, representing communities near the park such as Bay Park, Clairemont, Linda Vista and parts of Pacific Beach, the same concerns trouble Frye.

She was the lone dissenting vote when the council approved the SeaWorld projects.

Frye said she was also troubled by last Tuesday's vote because it approved the first set of projects without specific details , and without requiring that the projects go back to the community and city when the final designs are available.

Frye plans to present her constituents' concerns at the October meeting.

"Certainly, the issues that the community brings forward to me are going to be raised for the Coastal Commission," she said.

A statement supporting the expansion projects will likely be made by the San Diego County Hotel/Motel Association, which also backed the projects at the City Council meeting.

Adds To Tourism Market

"We feel the only way for us hoteliers to do business is to have attractions that will bring people to San Diego," said Luis Barrios, the organization's president. "The only way to keep up with competition is to continue to expand our attractions, whether it be SeaWorld, the Zoo, Legoland and the Wild Animal Park.

"These are the attractions that really bring people in Mission Bay, in itself is a wonderful attraction for our market," said Barrios, who is general manager of the Catamaran Hotel & Resort in Pacific Beach.

The Catamaran's proximity to Mission Bay means Barrios' customers are also affected by the traffic and noise-related concerns of residents who are opposed to SeaWorld's expansion.

"I am sure SeaWorld will be taking some measures to better the way traffic flows, so all of those issues, I think, SeaWorld is very much addressing," he said.