|By Bradley J. Fikes, North County Times,
Escondido, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 26, 2011--With attendance running above projections, Legoland California is going ahead with delayed plans to build a 250-room Lego-themed hotel at the amusement park.
Peter Ronchetti, Legoland California's general manager, made the announcement Thursday morning at the site of the future hotel on the park's premises, just south of Cannon Road and east of Interstate 5.
Located just feet away from the ticket counters by the visitors entrance, the hotel will be unmistakably Lego, Ronchetti said. Construction is to begin in October, and the opening is planned for the summer of 2013.
Ronchetti declined to say how much the hotel would cost, other than to say it's a substantial "multimillion-dollar" investment by the park's owner, Merlin Entertainments.
On Thursday, civic leaders such as Carlsbad Councilwoman Ann Kulchin gathered for the announcement, along with a group of children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carlsbad.
Sitting on the ground a few feet away, children watched as a bulldozer dropped a load of colorful toy Lego bricks on a bed by the outdoor podium, symbolically representing the "bed and brick" reality of construction.
Afterward, the children were told they could jump in and play with the bricks. They needed little encouragement.
News of the coming hotel is good for Carlsbad's image and good for business, said Ted Owen, president and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.
The hotel "firmly ensconces Legoland as being a destination," Owen said. It also adds more local beds that will attract tourists to North County.
"Typically people coming to San Diego stay downtown, they stay somewhere in the Kearny Mesa or (Mission) Valley (area)," he said. "They go to Seaworld, they go to the zoo, they go to Legoland. But they end up staying there every day. Now, they're going to stay here."
The city of Carlsbad will benefit financially from the 10 percent hotel tax revenue from visitors, Owen said. "That's more money, into the millions, for the city, which gives us a better quality of life and services."
Because Legoland California has expanded since its opening in 1999, today it is "far more than a one-day visit," Ronchetti said.
"With a water park and our fantastic Sea Life Aquarium, it's really a two- or three-day event," Ronchetti said.
"Over the last four years we've consistently grown our attendance year over year ... and we're very pleased to keep growing."
Most visitors to Legoland drive there, making a trip of about 2 1/2 hours or less, he said, so it makes sense to provide on-site accommodations.
Ronchetti said Legoland will partner with other entertainment and visitor attractions to provide travel packages.
"We certainly recognize this isn't just about our resort," he said. "It's about beautiful beaches, other attractions, fantastic restaurants, all this area has to offer."
Kulchin said Legoland California has been "a good fit for Carlsbad" since it opened its doors more than a decade ago.
"We've been waiting for this (hotel)," she said. "And now it's finally happening ... this is a piece of the puzzle that needs to be here."
The Carlsbad City Council approved the project in late October 2009. But with continuing economic uncertainty, owner Merlin Entertainments put the hotel on hold while it monitored consumer activity.
Under the original plans, the hotel would have included a Lego clock tower and brightly colored Lego decorations around the exterior. The serpentine-shaped hotel was to have been built in two phases, with the first phase consisting of 152 rooms.
However, Legoland has not said how much of the original design will be incorporated into the hotel.
More information about Legoland California is available at www.legoland.com. For more on the resort, visit www.legolandhotel.com or call 760-918-LEGO.
Call staff writer Bradley J. Fikes at 760-739-6641.
(c)2011 the North County Times (Escondido, Calif.)
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