“We’re not Tahiti or Hawaii. We’re California, and that’s what we’re scheming toward,” said Brett Miller, managing partner of Belmont Park, which is now jointly operated by hospitality company eat. drink. sleep (EDS) and Pacifica Real Estate Services. “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.”
EDS, a Pacific Beach-based hospitality management company and Pacifica Enterprises, a Rancho Santa Fe-based real estate investment firm, have owned historic Belmont Park since November.
The business partners, said Miller, are presently about one-third of the way through redeveloping the amusement park in the heart of Mission Beach.
Belmont Park features an athletic club, amusement rides, retail shops, restaurants, multiple bars, a miniature golf course and FlowRider and FlowBarrel wave machines.
On a recent walk-through of the park, Miller noted numerous renovations done or under way.
“This was all chain-link fence,” he said, pointing to glass now lining the outdoor patio next to the WaveHouse. Filling the space Cane’s Beach Bar left when it vacated four years ago (before its lease ran out), is Cannonball on the upper level with a microbrew-style restaurant below.
“The Cannonball is our new concept,” Miller said. “It’s a sushi bar with a splash.
“We are pulling away from being a retail center,” he said. “We want to go to an entertainment complex/amusement park.”
The park’s general manager noted Cannonball’s restrooms are now all state-of-the-art. He added the upper-level patio overlooking the ocean has been converted to more of a Southern California-beach look and feel with plenty of comfortable seating.
Belmont Park’s redevelopment, however, has not been without its critics. Excerpts from emails circulated recently underscore concerns by local residents who fear that “the planned/proposed south parking lot expansion at Belmont would remove/ replace numerous standing trees,” and that plans for redeveloping Belmont “would destroy the (existing) Wyland mural.”
Miller said residents’ fears on both counts are unfounded.
“If you look at everything we’ve done, we’re beautifying this property,” he said. “We’re not going to take out all the trees. We’re adding trees. If the perception is that we’re tearing down trees, I apologize for that. We’re trying to maximize the parking spaces because we don’t have enough. And we don’t have enough trees either. We’ve got to find a way to add more things [like] vegetation.”
Concerning the huge Wyland mural of whales and other marine life, Miller said it’s true that the fate of that particular mural is uncertain.
“We’re trying to save it,” he said, noting it’s on a wall that may require structural repair, which means it may have to go and there’s no way to move it.
“But if we don’t keep this one, then we’re going to have him (Wyland) do another one,” Miller said.
Belmont Park had been in bankruptcy four years before EDS and Pacifica acquired it. The park has faced significant renovation barricades in recent years because of a lease dispute between the city and the city-owned park’s previous primary leaseholder, Tom Lochtefeld.
Redevelopment challenges at Belmont have been made worse by the intermittent closure of the iconic Plunge pool because of repair needs and the ultimate court-appointed receivership of the park by East West Bank after Lochtefeld filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
After filing for bankruptcy, Wave House Belmont Park, LLC sued the city of San Diego for breach of contract involving a commercial lease for Belmont Park. In a judicial foreclosure action, Symphony Asset Pool XVI LLC foreclosed upon the property.
George Schaefer, deputy city attorney, said the Wave House bankruptcy case is “still pending,” adding the principals have submitted a Chapter 11 reorganization plan.
Schaefer said a court hearing on the reorganization plan has been scheduled for Sept. 27. He added negotiations with the city’s Real Estate Assets Department to resolve the lawsuit are ongoing. If those negotiations come to a successful conclusion, Schaeffer said it’s possible the lawsuit Wave House brought against the city will be dismissed.
Meanwhile, the Belmont Park revamp continues. Part of Cannonball is already open, and Miller said the remaining portion of the sushi bar will open sometime this fall. The microbrew pub downstairs could be in by November.
“In November, we’re also going to redo the midway as well,” said Miller. “We’ll put up all new signage to make it more like an amusement park, put in a bunch of brand new rides, redo all the concrete.”
Belmont Park will remain open through construction.
“We’re planning to be here for a long time,” said Miller of the developer’s long-range plans.
For more information about Belmont Park, visit www.belmontpark.com.