In the end, District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris, representing Mission Beach and the other beach communities in San Diego, said the proposed long-term lease extension of iconic Belmont Park came down to a question of dollars and cents.
The dollars weren’t there, so it didn’t make sense.
Seeking “a better deal,” the City Council on Sept. 22 rejected a long-term lease extension for Mission Beach’s iconic Belmont Park, with its signature and historic wooden rollercoaster, delaying final action for 60 days.
On the table was a proposal for a 55-year lease, which also called for valet parking at Belmont Park.
“The total net rent the city has collected on the Belmont Park lease since 1988 is only $1,639,166,” said Harris in a press statement on the lease negotiations. “How is that possible? It’s my job to get the best deal for the taxpayers and not go along with business as usual. I think we can do better.”
After reviewing the proposed lease, Harris said he asked the city’s independent budget analyst (IBA) to determine whether it was consistent with best practices of other cities and whether a longer-term lease would be in the city’s long-term best interests.
The IBA reported the 50-plus-year term of the proposed extension is longer than the average municipal ground lease and that its rental rates seemed lower than the percentage rent-average of comparable municipal leases in other California cities.
There’s been speculation that a failure between Belmont Park’s operators, Eat Drink Sleep (EDS) — a Pacific Beach-based hospitality management company — and Pacifica Enterprises, a Rancho Santa Fe-based real-estate investment firm, and the city to iron out differences on an extension for Belmont could delay or even kill expansion plans in the works for the amusement park.
The centerpiece of that expansion has been redevelopment of the former Canes Bar & Grill, which closed in 2009 after a fire, into three distinct restaurants on the Mission Beach boardwalk: the beach-themed Cannonball on the 6,000-square-foot rooftop, not yet open; Draft, a brew pub now open downstairs; and an Italian concept eatery. The complex’s other eateries include the WaveHouse Beach Club, North Shore Cafe, Belmonty’s Burgers and Plunge Pizzeria.
Belmont’s previous operator, Tom Lochtefeld, had ambitious plans for re-inventing the aging park to make it more family friendly. That plan was abandoned in the wake of a bankruptcy that eventually led to new management of Belmont.
In November 2010, Wave House Belmont Park LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Lochtefeld, who was the master leaseholder at the time, alleged the city had breached its lease agreement. He filed a $25 million lawsuit in 2011 against the city, accusing it of breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation for preventing him from completing a second major expansion of the park, including adding a hotel. The city said Lochtefeld was no longer eligible to receive rent subsidies and his rent increased by about 800 percent, from about $70,000 to $550,000.
The lawsuit was settled in November 2013 after Lochtefeld decided not to pursue the case against the city. In 2012, Pacifica Enterprises LLC acquired the park leasehold in a bankruptcy trustee sale.
Belmont Park’s redevelopers have said they’re not trying to reinvent Mission Beach’s seven-acre, 88-year-old amusement complex. Instead, they said, they just want to “localize” it.
“Our goal is to have this park be one of the top six in San Diego, along with Petco Park, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and Legoland,” Brett Miller, managing partner of Belmont Park previously told the Beach & Bay Press.
The amusement park, in the heart of Mission Beach, which features an athletic club, amusement rides, retail shops, restaurants, multiple bars, a miniature golf course and FlowRider and FlowBarrel wave machines, is currently in the middle of redevelopment.
Belmont Park was initially developed by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels and opened on July 4, 1925 as the Mission Beach Amusement Center. Besides providing recreation and amusement, the park was intended as a way to help Spreckels sell land in Mission Beach.
The attractions and rides remaining from the original 1925 park include the Giant Dipper historic wooden rollercoaster listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Plunge, an indoor swimming pool temporarily closed, which is now a fresh water pool, started out as a saltwater pool.
Other amusements include a Tilt-A-Whirl ride, a three-story “Vertical Plunge” drop tower, a Carousel and the Wave House Athletic Club. The Wave House Bar and Grill overlooks the ocean and features two artificial waves, FlowBarrel and FlowRider.
Newer attractions include a SkyRopes obstacle course, a Moser Gyro Loop dubbed “Control Freak” and a Chance Unicoaster dubbed “Octotron.” The park’s rides, including the Giant Dipper, are operated by the San Diego Coaster Company.