Transformational Plaza de Panama project wins City Council approval
Published - 11/15/16 - 10:35 AM | 2736 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park at sunset. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park at sunset. / Photo by Thomas Melville
A City Council majority gave final approval Monday to the Plaza de Panama project that will transform Balboa Park for future generations by creating more than six acres of vehicle-free parkland, gardens and plazas in the heart of the park.

“We can now seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform San Diego’s crown jewel for the next century,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “This public-private partnership will reclaim the heart of Balboa Park for pedestrians and return the Plaza de Panama to its original grandeur. With the support from the City Council and great civic leaders like Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the grand restoration of Balboa Park can finally begin.”

The long-stalled project will remove traffic from the historic heart of Balboa Park; create 6.3 acres of parkland, gardens and pedestrian-friendly plazas; and increase parking.

The $79 million project will be financed through a combination of paid parking revenues in the new garage, City funds earmarked for major capital projects and about $30 million in private philanthropy, led by the Plaza de Panama Committee and its chairman Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the Qualcomm co-founder.

Originally approved by the City Council in 2012, under the leadership of former Mayor Jerry Sanders, the project was held up by a legal challenge that was overturned with a victory by project proponents at the appellate court level – a ruling that was affirmed by the California Supreme Court.

“Future generations will look back on today and thank everyone involved for their vision and determination, especially Dr. Jacobs,” said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. “Now that the California Supreme Court has blessed this project, there can be no question that it is legally sound in addition to being enormously beneficial to Balboa Park.”

The Plaza de Panama project includes:

· Removing cars from the heart of the park. Five areas currently lost to parking and traffic – the Plaza de Panama, Plaza de California, West El Prado, Esplanade and the parking lot behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – will all be restored to their historic use as pedestrian park spaces.

· A total of 6.3 acres of thoroughfares and parking lots will be transformed into pedestrian plazas, promenades and a rooftop park that better realize the remarkable Balboa Park experience.

· A completely car-free Plaza de Panama with major aesthetic improvements, including reflecting pools and more pedestrian amenities.

· A three-level underground parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion with a 2.2-acre rooftop park and 797 paid parking spaces. Thousands of parking spaces in the park – the vast majority – will remain free.

· Improved parking with an increase of more than 30 percent in the number of parking spaces of accessible parking spaces in the core of the park, including in the parking structure and a reconfigured Alcazar parking lot.

The original 2012 cost estimate of $45 million for the project was revised to reflect updated state development regulations, the applicability of prevailing wage and a less competitive bidding market.

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