Tourism leaders are looking for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s water park acquisition and upcoming expansion in Chula Vista to create a big economic splash for the entire South County, with ripple effects expected for the rest of San Diego County.
“There are a lot of things in South County that people have just become aware of in the last two or three years,” said Cindy Gompper-Graves, CEO of the South County Economic Development Council. “This will help to bring in more spending by people from outside the San Diego region, which is very important.”
The Florida-based parent of SeaWorld San Diego recently announced that it has acquired Knott’s Soak City San Diego, located at 2042 Otay Valley Road in Chula Vista, from Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. for an undisclosed price.
Following an extensive off-season renovation, the water park will reopen in the spring as Aquatica San Diego, with specialized attractions likely incorporating birds, fish and other exotic animals. The first Aquatica opened adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando in 2008, with attractions such as Dolphin Plunge — featuring an acrylic slide that lets riders view animals underwater — pulling in approximately 1.5 million guests annually, the company said.
A second Aquatica opened last year near SeaWorld San Antonio. SeaWorld San Diego spokesman David Koontz said local officials would not be commenting on the Chula Vista transaction or upcoming plans beyond a recent statement, since elements are still subject to contractual negotiations with Cedar Fair.
“Aquatica will be a great complement to SeaWorld and help us continue to bring value to our guests and enhance this destination,” SeaWorld San Diego President John Reilly said in the statement.
The local acquisition came just a month after SeaWorld San Diego announced plans for a multimillion-dollar renovation of its main gate area, which will be transformed into a reef-themed attraction. Earlier this year, the Mission Bay park debuted its ray-themed Manta roller coaster, which included construction of several related amenities.
Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, also known as ConVis, said SeaWorld’s enhanced local footprint should bring region-wide economic benefits, similar to the impact resulting from San Diego Zoo’s ongoing marketing of its own Safari Park near Escondido.
“SeaWorld has been our partner forever in marketing this region,” Terzi said. “They know very well how to bring people into San Diego.”
Terzi said based on SeaWorld’s past regional promotions, the local SeaWorld will likely be offering discounts and other promotions tied in with the new local Aquatica and other area attractions.
“There won’t be anybody who comes to SeaWorld who won’t know something about the park in Chula Vista,” he said, adding that Aquatica San Diego will likely generate a strong contingent of visitors coming principally to see that park, who will then take in other regional sights and attractions.
Terzi said Aquatica San Diego will also fit in well with recent kid-centric promotions organized through ConVis, aiming to bring more families to the region. For instance, a campaign called Kids Free San Diego, held throughout October, was supported by more than 100 local hotels, restaurants, museums and attraction operators, offering meals, admissions and other freebies for children accompanied by their parents.
Figures are still being tallied, but Terzi said the campaign boosted the region’s October visitor numbers significantly over the same month of 2011, and the promotion will likely be repeated next year.
Gompper-Graves said SeaWorld’s marketing muscle should eventually translate into greater awareness of South County hotels, historical sites and ecotourism offerings, potentially boosting visitor counts at attractions such as Cricket Amphitheatre and the newly rebranded Living Coast Discovery Center, formerly known as Chula Vista Nature Center.
“People who drive down along state Route 125 and I-805 will be able to see more things in the eastern part of South County, like the new homes and retail centers,” she said. “SeaWorld does a very good job with its marketing, and we are looking forward to this region benefiting from that.”