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San Diego sues SeaWorld for $12.23M in back-due rent

The city of San Diego on Thursday sued SeaWorld for $12.23 million in back-due rent.

By the numbers

  • SeaWorld leases nearly 200 acres in Mission Bay for its park, according to the lawsuit.
  • The court document says SeaWorld must pay a minimum of $10.4 million in rent per year, plus a 3% surcharge as agreed on the lease.
  • SeaWorld owes $12.23 million in back-due rent going back to 2019, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said.
  • SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. earned $1.7 billion in revenue last year, according to their 2022 report.
  • In the first quarter of this year, SeaWorld reported a revenue of $293.3 million, up 8.4% over last year.

Why it matters

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said $12.23 million is not chump change. It's enough to pay for some essential city services.

"That's a lot of road repair. That's a lot of police officers. It's a lot of firefighters. That's a lot of shelter beds. It's a lot of money," he said. "Now, fairness, a lot of that money has to stay in Mission Bay Park. But you've been to Mission Bay Park. We could pave some of those parking lots. We could repair some of those lots that are there. We could returf some key areas. Mission Bay has a lot of needs."

City Attorney Mara Elliott said SeaWorld is the major lessee that is in default — or has failed to comply with a provision in the lease — on its rent and taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder the cost of a multibillion-dollar company.

"It is a very lucrative company. SeaWorld is part of the fabric of a lot of children's lives, and it's one of the reasons that we like having them here in San Diego," she said. "I raised my kids at SeaWorld, and I think most of us feel like that. So this is a very disappointing result."

Looking ahead

  • The city has been in talks with SeaWorld and presented the company with invoices and said litigation was the last resort. Officials say they hope for an amicable resolution to the matter.
  • SeaWorld said in a statement that it does not comment on litigation as a matter of policy but said it has enjoyed a good partnership with the city for 60 years. "We also have paid more than $146 million in lease payments to the City of San Diego since 2010," the statement said. "We appreciate all the City has done and we look forward to addressing this situation.