Tom Lochtefeld stood before San Diego city councilmembers Tuesday, November 9, and urged them to direct the city's Real Estate Assets Department to restart negotiations on Belmont Park's land lease and rethink the 700 percent rent increase that the department imposed. If not, said Lochtefeld, the Coney Island–inspired amusement park in Mission Beach may take its final plunge.
"We have a crisis," said Lochtefeld to city councilmembers during non-agenda public comment. "This Friday, the bank is going to foreclose, and I will no longer be the owner."
Lochtefeld, who has spent nearly $12.7 million in capital improvements to the park since assuming the lease in 2002, testified that the Real Estate Assets Department has rejected efforts to renegotiate the land lease and increased the rent on the land by 700 percent.
"Action needs to be taken immediately," added Lochtefeld. "If the bank doesn't get an extension in the next day or so, it's all going to collapse."
During its 85 years in operation, Belmont Park has seen its fair share of ups and downs. The park closed in 1976 and years later, the park's main attraction, the Giant Dipper roller coaster, was set afire. By the early 1980s, the surrounding area turned from a tourist destination to a getaway for addicts and transients.
In the mid ’80s, looking to redevelop and reinvigorate the park and the area, city officials decided to issue nearly $6 million in rent credits on the land. The rent credits attracted new owners. Renovations were made to the park, and a lifeguard tower and restroom facilities were built.
However, the city continued to issue the rent credits over the $6 million they initially set aside as a way to spark new development. So far, the city has given credits upwards of $17 million to the lessees. Now, the city’s Real Estate Assets Department wants to recoup lost revenues on the land.
Lochtefeld says if that happens and if the city steps aside and allows the bank to foreclose on Belmont Park, revenues from sales tax from the park's 4 million visitors a year would freefall, and 500 San Diegans would be out of work.
"The consequence is that I will not be there. And [because] I control 55 percent of the incomes, the park is going to go away, and you guys will be sitting with a big hole there."
As Lochtefeld stepped away from the podium, councilmember Carl DeMaio asked city staff to look into Real Estate Assets Department's decision to raise the rent and inform the city council before any decisions are made.