Tourism: Height an Issue in Proposing New Attractions
SeaWorld San Diego’s campaign to build structures as tall as 160 feet , which critics fear could include thrill rides , has become a roller coaster of its own.
Following the San Diego Planning Commission’s instructions in October to involve the public in the process, the marine theme park completed its first series of community forums in mid-January.
Eventually, SeaWorld officials want to change the park’s master plan, formalizing voters’ November 1998 exemption of SeaWorld from a longtime 30-foot height limit imposed on coastline construction.
The community’s response will be compiled for a report that will be given to commissioners at an upcoming meeting, said SeaWorld spokesman Bob Tucker.
According to Tucker, the four sessions of community forums were attended by a total of about 200 people who studied display boards on topics such as economic impact, park history, conservation efforts and entertainment. They could leave comments on Post-it Notes and stick them onto the displays, or talk to a planning consultant or SeaWorld representative.
The SeaWorld board didn’t detail any attractions or rides the park is planning to build. It instead showed the attractions at other SeaWorld parks and at its competitors. Among them was the Orlando, Fla., SeaWorld’s ride “Journey to Atlantis,” a water coaster ride with a 60-foot drop.
The park has also launched a hot line for callers to listen to information; request more information or leave comments; a fax-on-demand service; and set up a “master plan update” section on its Web site.
To publicize its forums, the park has advertised in newspapers, on radio and on TV. The outreach project has cost the park upwards of $20,000, Tucker said.
A “farce” is how critics describe SeaWorld’s campaign so far.
“I was frankly disappointed,” said Joanne Pearson, of the local Sierra Club. “At the forums, there were these anonymous Post-it Notes, which allows SeaWorld to put whatever spin they want.
“There’s no accountability from anonymous Post-it Notes.”
According to Pearson, a SeaWorld representative told her they wouldn’t have an actual attraction project to discuss for up to 24 months.
“By then, people will have become tired of all of these trappings, all of these hearings and will have gone away.”
She thinks park officials want to delay presenting information until the public loses interest.
“This is intended,” she said. “This is not happenstance.”
Crown Point resident Catherine Strohlein is also wary of the park’s approach, particularly the forums.
“They’re talking about education, and they’re talking about saving the mammals, and occasionally they’ll mention a roller coaster,” Strohlein said. “It’s my belief their plans do call for things like roller coasters.”
Aquariums and educational facilities don’t need to be 160 feet tall, she said.
Strohlein and others also wonder how much influence the community responses will actually have on the park’s plan.
“It was good feedback on a variety of things , positively toward this Journey of Atlantis attraction, as well as a couple of other examples that we showed,” said SeaWorld’s Tucker. There was negative reaction to a hotel on the site, and “large steel roller coasters,” he said.
The reactions weren’t surprising, Tucker said. “It was basically what we expected, but this was a formal way of gathering this kind of feedback and letting people react to things that they saw on these boards,” he said.
According to Bill Davis, SeaWorld’s general manager, the forums and other outreach programs have indicated the public wants SeaWorld to have a “little flexibility.”
He continued, “They are also telling us, quite clearly, they want us to, for lack of a better term, ‘stick to our knitting,’ to the things that have made SeaWorld a world-class attraction and that’s balanced entertainment.”
The park will balance educational attractions with the entertainment-oriented ones, he said.