The observation wheel proposed for Balboa Park. Courtesy Sky Views of America

What the world needs now is imagination. But to imagine requires hope.

Hope inspired our vision of the Balboa Park Star, a transportable observation wheel we hoped would find a temporary home in Balboa Park’s iconic Plaza de Panama.

From the project’s inception, our team envisioned bringing this unique, affordable, COVID-safe visitor experience to Balboa Park, while access to museums and institutions was limited and the park lacked its usual energy. 

We saw the Balboa Park Star as a catalyst for re-introducing residents and visitors to San Diego’s crown jewel after COVID stay-at-home orders were lifted, vaccines were widespread and, after more than a year of living with the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic, they might feel comfortable returning.

We hoped the Balboa Park Star would be a tide that would lift all boats in the park, re-connecting San Diegans and visitors to Balboa Park’s alliance of cultural arts institutions. We hoped the observation wheel’s proximity to The Prado restaurant would make it possible to offer passengers memorable sky-dining experiences, featuring the Cohn Restaurant Group’s signature cuisine and outstanding customer service.

When the opportunity to collaborate with the Cohn group presented itself, we hoped our team could bring our vision to life.

The Balboa Star is a world-class attraction. Views from the top of this compact, self-contained temporary observation wheel would offer passengers beautiful panoramic views stretching from Balboa Park to the downtown waterfront, while giving them a bit of joy during and after a very dark time. 

Over the past decade, observation wheels have animated skylines and civic spaces across the world, including Paris, London, Singapore, Washington, Seattle, Miami, and as recently as last fall, in San Francisco’s historic gem, Golden Gate Park. Our team believed San Diegans deserved a temporary observation of our own. That’s why we spent months collaborating with regional partners, including Balboa Park stakeholders, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, and the Federal Aviation Administration, responding to questions and concerns, addressing logistical requirements, and ultimately gaining their approval to move our project forward.

When in early December, the Balboa Park Committee gave its nod to the project on a 7-1 vote, we believed we had set the stage to bring the Balboa Park Star to life.

Regretfully, four months into this journey and after many hours dedicated to community outreach and responding to the city’s endless list of project action items, we’ve decided to walk away from the Balboa Park Star. Here’s why: 

  • The number of bureaucratic hurdles we were expected to cross made it virtually impossible to secure the city’s approval for a temporary attraction in Balboa Park. We had hoped the city would view our project as another opportunity to lend a helping hand to businesses and nonprofits struggling for survival during the pandemic. But that was not the case.
  • The efforts of a small but vocal group of San Diegans who, instead of responding to our offers to meet with us to discuss the project, resorted to attacking it — and by extension, the Cohn group — from their self-described position as defenders of a public park that belongs to all San Diegans. 

It’s disappointing and disheartening to close the door on the Balboa Park Star after our team worked so hard to bring it to life. We apologize to the many San Diegans who were inspired by our vision. We’re sorry they won’t have the chance to enjoy unforgettable views from the top of the park that would have brought smiles to their faces and renewed hope in their hearts.

The Balboa Park Star was more than a temporary attraction capable of lifting the spirits of locals and visitors during COVID-19 pandemic. It was a hopeful symbol of what San Diegans might accomplish together when people think creatively and work collaboratively.

Ben Pickett is vice president of Sky Views of America. Molly Bowman-Styles is a second-generation San Diegan and president of Windansea Communications.

Show comments