San Diego Business Journal

SeaWorld To Begin Expansion Next Month

Staff Writer

Having won final approvals from the California Coastal Commission last week, SeaWorld San Diego will begin construction on the first phase of its multimillion-dollar expansion early next month.

"We're gratified and thrilled to be at this point, and very anxious to move forward," said Bob Tucker, director of public relations for the theme park.

The most controversial part of the project, a roller coaster-like water ride that will be 95 feet tall in some areas, will be open by April 2004, he said.

According to Tucker, the park plans to have the ride's steel structure built to its full height by May of next year, have the ride ready for testing in February 2004 and do a soft opening that April.

The grand opening events will take place in the following month.

Final negotiations with a general contractor were continuing last week. Tucker would not identify the company, although he said it was local.

An announcement is expected to be released this week, he said.

The design and permitting work has already been completed, Tucker said.

The main challenge in the water ride's design phase was incorporating the park's Commerson's dolphins, which will be featured alongside the ride, he said.

The animals have been kept behind the scenes since the late 1990s, when displaced by the park's Shipwreck Rapids ride.

On Sept. 9, at a meeting in Los Angeles, coastal commissioners voted 6-2 to approve the changes the theme park made to its expansion plans, which they had approved with the conditions in February.

Among the changes the park made to their plans was moving the water ride to a more inland location.

The park also agreed to pay $10.6 million upfront to curb the effects of the increased traffic expected from the expansion.

The park is also paying for a $2.5 million 50-foot-wide pedestrian promenade that will extend along South Shores Park, at the side of SeaWorld, offering a $5 discount to customers who use public transportation to get to the park, and will test the bay regularly to gauge the effects of their regular fireworks shows.

The water ride's height was a major focus in SeaWorld's campaign to have its expansion passed. The park is on 189.5 acres of city-owned land, and its master plan is part of a larger plan for the Mission Bay Park.

According to current rules, coastal property has a 30-foot height limit on new structures. In order to build beyond that, SeaWorld ran a campaign to have voters approve their right to build higher than the preset limit.

It was approved in November 1998 by 50.7 percent of voters.

Bob Kingery, general manager of the Pacific Terrace Hotel in Pacific Beach, said he's supportive of the expansion.

"I think anything that an organization like SeaWorld , or the Zoo, for that matter , does that makes our position better in attracting the leisure customer, I think it's in our best interests that it occur," Kingery said.