San Diego Business Journal

SeaWorld Expansion Gets State Panel's Approval

Tourism: Moving Ride, New Boardwalk Among Mandates

BY TANYA RODRIGUES
Staff Writer

With an affirmative vote from the California Coastal Commission earlier this month, plans for a taller, expanded SeaWorld San Diego is heading into a new phase.

On Feb. 7, commissioners voted 7-3 to approve, with several changes, a local coastal plan amendment that ushers in SeaWorld's multimillion-dollar expansion plan for the aquatic theme park.

The park is located on 189 acres of city-owned land along Mission Bay.

According to park spokesman Bob Tucker, SeaWorld's staff is reviewing the results of the Coastal Commission meeting and creating a plan with which to revisit the state agency and the San Diego City Council.

"That's really where our focus will be over the next month or so," Tucker said. "We hope to go before both of these groups in March and April."

Plans are already in place for the park's new education facility, and ground could be broken as early as summer, he said. No cost was released for the new building.

Tucker said the park's vice president of engineering will likely begin seeking bids for the project sometime soon.

Roller Coaster Project

Another project that will be reworked slightly is the park's 95-foot-tall "splashdown" roller coaster.

SeaWorld had planned to build it closer to the bay, but agreed to move the ride to a more inland location in the park, at the commission's request.

According to Tucker, construction could begin by fall, and the ride could be open in the first or second quarter of 2004. The park isn't releasing how much the ride will cost to build.

For the city, which presented the need for an amendment to SeaWorld and Mission Bay's master plans to the Coastal Commission, the next step is returning to the City Council seeking its approval for the commission's certification.

According to Will Griffith, director of the city's real estate assets, the certification could possibly go before the council in the next couple of weeks, but it's more likely to happen sometime after March, Griffith said.

Once the council approves the certification, SeaWorld will have to apply for a coastal development permit, he said.

Modifications Mandated

The coastal commissioners' approval came with several modifications. Among their requests was that SeaWorld pay $10.6 million upfront to curb the effects of the increased traffic expected to result from the expansion.

The park also must pay for a $2.5 million, 50-foot-wide pedestrian promenade that will extend along South Shores Park at the side of SeaWorld.

The park will also test the bay regularly to gauge the effects of its fireworks shows.

SeaWorld also agreed to offer a $5 discount to customers who use public transportation to get to the park.

In a staff report issued late last month on the project, the main controversy was language that seemed to suggest a moratorium on commercial development in Mission Bay until more progress was made on public recreational projects for South Shores and Fiesta Island.

In the Feb. 7 meeting, held at the Hyatt Islandia, commissioners decided to soften the language about development priorities. At the meeting, the city agreed to create a capital improvement plan within the next two years for South Shores and Fiesta Island.