Legoland California has submitted plans to the city of Carlsbad for a water park with rides, outdoor dining and shops on a 7.3-acre portion of its 350-acre property.

Legoland officials declined comment on the plans but Van Lynch, a Carlsbad senior planner, explained that Merlin Entertainment Groups, an entity largely owned by Blackstone Capital Partners (NYSE: BX), submitted plans on Aug. 25 for a project being dubbed the “Waterworks Cluster.”  The cluster would be constructed in multiple phases.

These would include the “Lazy River” with family raft rides; water spray features and fountains; slides and pools for tots and older children; and more vigorous rides for older children and adults.

A key component would be an inner tube ride dubbed “Mini-Boomerango” that would push patrons up a waterslide before taking the inner tube over a ramp and dropping it back down into a pool.
While Dieter Ronchetti, Legoland spokesman, wouldn’t provide details about the Waterworks Cluster, he indicated he hopes to “unveil the new land next year.”

So does the sluggish economy warrant adding to the theme park? Ronchetti said yes.

“Last year was a record year for us in terms of attendance,” Ronchetti said, without revealing numbers, “and we are currently running ahead of 2008.”

Ronchetti, who added that his theme park is about to celebrate its 10th birthday, said Legoland is still years away from buildout.

As plans become clear for park rides, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider a measure next week that could create a campground at the park.

Plans are subject to change but currently call for tent/shelters on site, bathroom facilities, a hospitality tent, central fire ring and a small outdoor amphitheatre.

“Additional overnight camping facilities, the main source of lower cost visitor and recreational facilities, are needed throughout the San Diego coastal region,” the Coastal Commission staff stated, before adding that additional camping facilities should also be provided in a regional park within the city.

That in turn, the staff report stated, should be in conjunction with such low cost facilities on private lands.

Coastal Commission staff has been pushing for lower-cost options at multiple properties around the county during the past two years.

Of higher priority than a campground to Legoland is a proposed 254-room, three-story, 121,000-square-foot Lego-themed hotel, with meeting areas, 11,000 square feet of retail and a pool.

“We’re still at the technical drawing stage, but that would be a very exciting project at the entrance to the park,” Ronchetti said.

While reasons for the hotel’s removal from next week’s Coastal Commission docket were not immediately clear, hotel financing has proven to be elusive during the past year.

Although the hotel is now not expected to come to the commission before early 2010.  That could be a good thing, as consultants such as Robert Rauch aren’t predicting a rebound in the hotel market before 2012.  If the new hotel is built, it will have no shortage of competition.

Carlsbad already has more than 3,500 rooms, including Grand Pacific Resorts’ neighboring Grand Pacific Palisades Resort with its 161 timeshares and 90 hotel rooms, and the Carlsbad Sheraton Resort & Spa with its first phase of 250 hotel rooms and 44 timeshare units operated by an affiliate of Hilton Grand Vacations.

Tim Stripe, Grand Pacific co-president (with David Brown) said while he has one timeshare building with 12 units currently under construction, the economy will dictate how quickly the rest of that project comes online.

Stripe said while he might eventually be competing with a Legoland Hotel, the theme park has proven to be a huge boon to his business.

“We are probably their largest purveyor of tickets outside the park,” Stripe said. “We’ve had an excellent relationship for a long time.”

Another neighbor of Legoland on the Carlsbad Ranch property is the Gemological Institute of America in its 236,000-square-foot headquarters constructed in 1997 on 17.7 acres at 5345 Armada Drive.

In the last couple of years, the GIA had been considering a 150,000-square-foot expansion of its Carlsbad headquarters but that was before the recession changed the dynamic.

In early 2004, the GIA acquired a vacant 10.87-acre adjacent to its headquarters for $5.37 million.
With the U.S. economy as it is, the GIA said it plans to focus any expansion in countries such as India.

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