Just like its 85-year-old roller coaster, Belmont Park has had its ups and downs.
“When I took it over it was half empty and there were drugs and gangs, and it was bad,” says Tom Lochtefeld, owner of the company that operates most of Belmont Park.
Lochtefeld says the city asked him to take over the lease on the park back in 2002 when it was in need of a redevelopment. He says he spent $12 million repairing and adding onto the park.
Those improvements included the Wave House Bar and its $4 million standing wave, which quickly attracted national attention, including MTV.
Lochtefeld says the park now gets about four million visitors a year and at peak summer season employs 500 people. But when rent came due on Friday, Lochtefeld couldn’t pay. He had filed for bankruptcy earlier in the week.
“No, it’s not fair,” was his response when explaining the city has raised the rent 700 percent.
Lochtefeld and the city agreed on the rent increase several years ago, back when there were plans for a second phase of the redevelopment, including a new hotel, parking structure, and several more amusement rides.
“In 2008 the city told me to stop after I’d submitted the plan, they said hold on, we want to keep it as is,” Lochtefeld said.
The problem, he says, is the city also wanted the keep the rent increase.
“It’s two and a half years I’ve been trying to negotiate this thing,” he said. “It’s like I’m talking to a blank wall.”
Lochtefeld says without further expansion he does not believe any operator could make the numbers work enough to pay what the city wants. He says if there is no negotiation, he worries the park will go back to the way it was.
“I think it would probably go derelict again just like it was ten years ago,” Lochtefeld said.
Lochtefeld says he’s still hopeful the two sides can negotiate a new lease.
Multiple phone calls from NBCSanDiego to the city’s department of real estate assets to respond to Lochtefeld’s claims were not returned.