SeaWorld and Evans Cement Deal to Build Hotel at SeaWorld Despite Buried Waste Dump

by on March 2, 2018 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

In January of this year, SeaWorld entered into an agreement with Evans Hotels to build a hotel at SeaWorld’s location in Mission Bay.

In its annual report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, corporate SeaWorld reported it and

Evans Hotel, a premier provider of resort accommodations, entered into a Limited Liability Company Agreement to develop, own and operate a hotel project (the “San Diego Hotel Project) to be located on the land that the Company leases from the City of San Diego.

This little bombshell is certain to set off alarm bells all over the beach area. There’s lots of problems and obstacles standing in the way of SeaWorld and Evans developing a hotel right there on SeaWorld’s property it leases from the City of San Diego.

SeaWorld acknowledged in its report to the SEC that the hotel project must secure a lease amendment, subject to the approval of the City of San Diego before it can move forward. But it also needs an amendment of the Mission Bay master plan – plus – and this is a big one – approval from the California Coastal Commission. SeaWorld stated the entire approval process “may take up to four years”.

But there’s other – deeper – problems with SeaWorld building a hotel on its site.

When the themepark first announced back in 2015 that it was partnering with local mega-hotelier Evans to build a hotel at its site, I outlined the problems with that plan in a post published in November of 2015, entitled, Why SeaWorld Can’t Build a Hotel at its Location on Mission Bay where I stated:

SeaWorld needs to re-appraise the [hotel] project, for the last time a major hotel was planned for that area of Mission Bay – it ended in disaster. In the early 1980s, Ramada wanted to build a resort – and the city had given the go-ahead.

But when it came time to begin construction, it was uncovered that a toxic landfill sat beneath all that sand. The old Mission Bay Landfill.  … the City ran an domestic and industrial landfill from 1952 through 1959 right there on the southern edge of Mission Bay, the largest aquatic park on the West Coast.

The City, the Navy, and the aerospace industry all poured their waste or dumped barrels of toxins into unlined sand pits at the site, located between what’s now I-5, south to the San Diego River, north to the water of the Bay, and west into land now occupied by parking lots and … SeaWorld.

This is why SeaWorld cannot build a 3 story hotel and resort, as it wants to, next to Perez Cove. There’s an old toxic landfill within yards away. Any 3 story building, I am told by an engineer, would require at least one story underground and steel beams driven into the sandy soil down 30 feet. This excavation into what’s below could very well disturb toxic gases and who knows what else.

Approximate boundaries of old Mission Bay landfill in red.

There’s much more to the story.

Here’s what SeaWorld describes as its lease with San Diego:

Lease Agreement with City of San Diego

Our subsidiary, Sea World LLC (f/k/a Sea World Inc.), leases approximately 190 acres from the City of San Diego, including approximately 17 acres of water in Mission Bay Park, California (the “Premises”). The current lease term commenced on July 1, 1998 and extends for 50 years or the maximum period allowed by law. Under the lease, the Premises must be used as a marine park facility and related uses. In addition, we may not operate another marine park facility within a radius of 560 miles from the City of San Diego.

The annual rent under the lease is calculated on the basis of a specified percentage of Sea World LLC’s gross income from the Premises, or the minimum yearly rent, whichever is greater. The minimum yearly rent is adjusted every three years to an amount equal to 80% of the average accounting year rent actually paid for the three previous years. The current minimum yearly rent is approximately $10.4 million, which is subject to adjustment on January 1, 2020.

There are other obstacles as well.

The City Council in 2002 adopted a resolution requiring SeaWorld to provide the City with a 90 day written notice prior to its filing for an application to build a 300-room, 3-story hotel on the premises. And the Council added that it must hold a public hearing on the issue before any application was filed. None of these have occurred.

Plus we should note that Evans is involved in his own controversy, his public land grab at Bahia Point, where he wants to double the size of his large hotel – taking over public parking space.

And we haven’t even raised the issue of rising sealevels. Evans has to deal with that if he wants to build a hotel on a sand spit. And what do rising sealevels do to a 1950s buried waste dump and land fill where toxins are suspected deep in its bowels?


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Rufus March 4, 2018 at 4:40 am

With some visitors to Sea World staying in vacation rentals in OB and taking up valuable housing, it would seem to me that more hotels is a good thing for those of us who make OB our home. Hotels also provide jobs, vacation rentals don’t.

And I’m sure the environmental issues can be dealt with by smart engineering.

So do we want more hotels to be built to accomodate visitors or do we want to see more of our rental stock going the way of vacation rentals? Surely you don’t think the city council has the balls to solve the vacation rental dilema. So let’s at least encourage the building of hotels in appropriate places. I don’t care who owns them, I just want them built.

And besides, Evans is a local guy. It’s better to keep the money local than to sent it to Marriott or some other international chain’s headquarters.


Marc Snelling March 4, 2018 at 5:58 am

Dont understand the logic of how hotels provide local jobs that vacation rentals dont. Who maintains vacation rentals if not locals? Will any vacation rentals cease operation if another Mission Bay hotel is built?

The real issues seem to be the facts that SeaWorld does not own the land and the site is q former toxic waste dump. Polluted sites are not appropriate for long term exposure. Is that not why it became South Shores Park where people visit intermittently, instead of a Ramada or other hotel where people would be exposed daily through their work?


Rufus March 4, 2018 at 9:13 am

All good points Mark. A hotel employs housekeepers, engineers, parking valets, cooks, waitstaff, managers, supervisors, and the front desk folks who check the guest in and out. I suspect there are more hourly job (with benefits, work comp, and pay PR taxes) per room than any vacation rental. And then there are the jobs that come from the food vendor, the bug man, the laundry, and all the stuff that is manufactured for the hotel and rooms.

But back to the big picture, do we want more tourists taking away rental stock?

As far as the waste dump, again, it can be mitigated by a clean up, or engineered to where it’s not a threat. Hell, Sea World employees work there every day. Are there reports of unusual health problems?

Me? I’d like to see the place cleaned up. If this proposed hotel goes forward, I’d like to see at least the dirt under the hotel to be made clean.


Rufus March 4, 2018 at 9:40 am

And one more thing I plumb forgot Mark, when a private business is located on public property, in this case Mission Bay Park, it’s a leasehold. The city owns the land and the building. And the private business pay a possessory interest tax to the county that is essentially a property tax. So schools benefit from that tax.

In addition, city code limits commercial development of the park to 25% of the land, which accounts for all the marinas, restaurants, boat rental, bait shops, and places like Sea World. A hotel built on Sea World’s leasehold will not increase the total acerage that’s leased in the park since Sea World is already the lessee of the property.

As origainally intended, rent paid by Mission Bay Park leasees was suposed to stay in the park and pay for improvements in the park. But our city council has raided this money for years and years to pay for their pet projects and budget shortfalls.

Energy used to protest a new hotel on an existing leasehold would be more effective it were used to pressure the city council to follow the law and leave Mission Bay lease payments in Mission Bay.


sealintheSelkirks March 4, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Ummm…Mark, it isn’t a ‘former’ toxic waste dump. It IS a Toxic Waste Dump. Full to brimming with a certainly incredible noxious stew of really bad crap humans invented.

Just because it has been there a few decades and ignored doesn’t mean it’s any less poisonous. Would it become a Superfund site if it was actually investigated? Has anyone cored it or is that possible with something like that? Thinking twice about that, drilling into a buried rusting barrel of radioactive waste or dioxins or PCBs or Toluene or Benzene (pick your poison there are so many to choose from during the 1950s Cold War) is probably not a wise thing to do.

Anybody know if there are monitoring sites at different locations within that red boundary line? Part of it is underwater? I don’t remember ever seeing any growing up. You’d think that maybe there should be?

Rufus, did you read and understand the part about being a Toxic Waste Dump buried in a freaking sand bar in a bay? A sandbar is a piece of real estate that washes away Transitory. Not permanent. And it’s in a bay.

This isn’t about freaking jobs this is about a Toxic Waste Dump in the bay!

Think about this for a moment. What kind of people would build a hotel on a Toxic Waste Dump? Or even think about building a hotel on a Toxic Waste Dump? Really, think this through here.

Would you want to work in a Toxic Waste Dump?When the wind blows the invisible sand and dust carrying whatever might be leaching up from the extremely disturbed from construction ground and goes deep into your lungs with every breath? Really?

Question: If they started digging underground (NO, it isn’t ground it is under SAND) parking lots and just how deep is this stuff buried, anyway?

Disclosure: My father (according to family stories) was the Chief Stock Clerk at Convair (became Gen. Dynamics) when he got out of the Army after Korea financing his way through SDSU. He signature would have been on every transit form for everything coming in or going out and that included to that dump. Funny that he would never swim in the bay just the ocean, nor were any family beach bbq gatherings ever held on the bayside. Always the ocean side or the bluffs up by Crystal Pier. His name for Mission Bay was “dirty cesspool.” The memory makes me wonder what he must have knew then with the now far-more-public exposure of this dump in recently years?

Forgive the pun but there’s a lot more buried here…


Frank Gormlie March 27, 2018 at 8:43 pm

Yes, the city does monitor the site.


John O. March 7, 2018 at 10:43 am

Sea World, the beaches, local resident parking could all benefit by getting the trolley to go to places that people actually visit… like Sea World and the beach. There is an area called hotel circle just a short distance away. Run the trolley line along the river canal with a stop at Sea World and another at the beach.
Parking would be much better… oh wait… the city relies on parking money and tickets.


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