Welcome to San Diego Blog | February 11, 2011

A Change Coming to Balboa Park?

A pretty significant change may take place in the near future at Balboa Park. The area of the park I’m referring to is the Plaza de Panama, which is currently a parking lot with a large fountain in the center with a steady flow of vehicle traffic. Plaza de Panama is null in front of (south of) the San Diego Museum of Art, just to the east of the SDAI – Museum of Living Art and can be reached by crossing the Cabrillo Bridge into the west entrance of the park.

The Plaza de Panama was originally intended to be the “cultural hub” of the park. As Mayor Jerry Sanders explains: “The plaza was designed as a grand ceremonial space – a gathering place for park visitors and a hub of the cultural activities in the heart of Balboa Park.” Unfortunately, this never came to fruition and instead the space was used for some 70 parking spaces and has allowed for a steady flow of traffic into the park center.

The current proposal, being worked on by city officials and Qualcomm Inc. founder Irwin Jacobs, is to transform the plaza into a pedestrian-friendly mall filled with trees, benches and open space. This plan includes diverting the traffic from the Cabrillo Bridge at the west entrance to the park to a new, two-story parking structure that would be constructed behind the Organ Pavilion.This would involve a new bypass bridge leading traffic from the Cabrillo Bridge to the underground parking structure and to other parking areas. The new parking structure behind the Organ Pavilion would have a rooftop garden about level with the Organ Pavilion. The new structure would have a net gain of approximately 250 parking spaces.

A newly formed nonprofit committee, the Plaza de Panama Committee, will oversee the fundraising efforts for the project, which is estimated to cost $33 million. The planners hope to have the project completed by December 2014, in time for the start of the centennial celebration in 2015.

Anytime there is to be change, there is likely to be opposition. For this project the opposition comes from the preservation group Save our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons states in a letter to Jacobs that “The current proposal is extremely destructive and would forever alter the iconic Cabrillo Bridge and the historic landscape and would hide the most important character-defining features of the front entrance to this National Register District.”

Jacobs, however, responded that the bypass will be screened by mature landscaping and held to a height that will allow the west wall of the Museum of Man to be visible when approaching over the bridge for the first time in 70 years. He also stated that this will remove all cars from the Plaza de Panama during park hours and in doing so to remove the cars from the Plaza deCalifornia, West El Prado and Esplanade, which will restore these areas to beautiful visitor spaces.

The San Diego Zoological Society supports the idea of additional parking at Balboa Park, however has suggested that the planners should follow 2004 amendments to the Balboa Park Master Plan that would instead construct an underground parking structure parallel to Park Boulevard between the Natural History Museum and Park Place. It would include a transit center for public transportation and a maximum of 4800 parking spaces. The intent is to move the Zoo’s entrance closer to Park Boulevard and join with a new promenade on top of the new parking structure, linking the new Zoo entrance to the end of the Prado in front of the Reuben H Fleet Science Center.

The Zoological society’s proposal would cost $106 million, and net an increase of approximately 1,850 parking spaces and approximately 14 acres of park land. They feel that the long term benefits to the park as a whole will justify the cost.  They also suggest combining resources and fund-raising capabilities with those of the Plaza de Panama Committee to generate the funding for the project.

We will continue to follow the Plaza de Panama Committee website for updates on the project and will update this blog with new developments.

Written by: heather

Categories: Culture, San Diego Attractions, San Diego Events

  1. Patrick McArron says:

    Important to note: Opposition does not equate to Obstructionism. SOHO is very much in favor of removing parking from Plaza de Panama and restoring it to pedestrian use. It is the method of achieving that goal that is the sticking point. As it should be, the primary mission of SOHO is to protect and preserve historic structures. So when SOHO objects to a bypass bridge as proposed, SOHO is NOT objecting to the original premise that parking be removed from Plaza de Panama.

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