San Diego Business Journal Tourism: Most Neighbors Say Expansion Plan Offers A Shot at More Business

As SeaWorld San Diego prepares to take its expansion plans to the California Coastal Commission this fall for final approval, businesses in nearby communities are considering how the Mission Bay theme park's plans , aimed at increasing attendance , will affect them.

Bobbie Ohumukini, general manager of the Inn at Mission Bay, expects the expansion to help her hotel.

Ohumukini estimates 80 percent of her customers visit SeaWorld. Her property already sells discounted tickets to the park.

New rides will certainly attract more visitors, she said.

"More people would want to see attractions, rather than stare at fish," Ohumukini noted.

She estimates that with SeaWorld's expansion, her business will increase about 3 percent.

The property has had an occupancy rate of 90 percent since June and has been fully booked on weekends, she said.

The hotel is generating more than $100,000 in sales a month, she said.

Craig Ahlstrom, general sales manager of Mossy Ford's Mission Bay Drive location, doesn't expect SeaWorld's expansion to affect business very much.

"If anything, it will bring more people to the beach area," he said.

Exposure was also a plus for Point Loma restaurateur John Barnhart.

Barnhart, who's operated Caribbean-themed Coconut Caf & #233; for five years, said about 25 percent of his business is tourists.

Of SeaWorld's expansion, he said, "I feel it's a good thing for the area and for the businesses in the area."

Traffic A Problem

Allen Peugh, who has owned Allen's Kayaks in Mission Beach since 1996, didn't agree.

"I think they need to be responsible to the area around them," Peugh said of SeaWorld. "The problem is that there's not enough Mission Bay for the people who already live here."

He also attributes heavy weekend traffic , "a mess," he said , to SeaWorld, for the most part. Peugh said he fields customer complaints about the traffic on a daily basis.

He's concerned SeaWorld won't address the effects of added attendance on the area's traffic. He doesn't think SeaWorld brings his business any added exposure.

Ohumukini, of the Inn at Mission Bay, was also concerned about SeaWorld's impact on the bay.

"It's park land, and should stay as natural as possible," she said.

Crown Point Coffee, located less than five minutes from SeaWorld, isn't expecting an impact from the theme park's expansion , unless it changes people's path to work.

"We don't get a lot of tourists," said Cathy Byers, an employee. At least 90 percent of the coffee shop's business comes from regulars on their way to work, including a lot of SeaWorld employees, Byers said.

Since 1998, SeaWorld has been running a campaign to expand and build taller structures.

The park has had to overcome regulations on coastal property that limited new buildings to a height of 30 feet.

In order to do so, the park has had to change its master plan, which is part of an overall plan for Mission Bay Park.

So far, the park has gotten approval from the various sectors. By less than a 1 percent margin, San Diego voters in 1998 exempted SeaWorld from the 30-foot limit. The San Diego Planning Commission gave a positive recommendation to the park's revised plans in June.

The latest approval came from the San Diego City Council on July 9. Council members approved the park and bay's master plan changes as well as a first set of projects.

The first set of projects are renovations to the park's entrance, a new catering facility, an education building, and a roller-coaster-like water ride.