San Diego City Council gave its final approval Monday to move forward on the $79 million Plaza de Panama project, which is designed to make Balboa Park more pedestrian-friendly by decreasing the number of vehicles in the park.
The item was approved by a vote of 8-1, with Council President Sherri Lightner dissenting.
The project calls for the creation of 6.3 acres of vehicle-free, pedestrian-friendly parkland, as well as gardens and plazas in the heart of the park. Five areas in the park – the Plaza de Panama, Plaza de California, West El Prado, Esplanade and the parking lot behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion – will become pedestrian park spaces, with no vehicle traffic, under the plan.
Construction of designated parking areas, including a three-level underground parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion, are also part of the design, as is a new tram service with potential for future expansion, according to city documents.
The 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, according to city documents.
“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.”
Project opponents contend the project contributes to “unnecessary and unwanted destruction of historical fabric to Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge and its surrounding canyon areas.” Opponents also argue that paid parking at the park will be too costly for families and that anticipated revenues may not come to fruition.
The City of San Diego’s financial contribution toward the completion of the project is capped at $49 million, which will be paid with bond proceeds, backed by parking revenue, and will be a one-time contribution from the City’s Capital Outlay Fund, according to city documents.
Originally approved by the City Council in 2012, under the leadership of former Mayor Jerry Sanders, the Plaza de Panama project was held up by a legal challenge that was overturned by project proponents at the appellate court level.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the project will be beneficial to residents.
“Future generations will look back on today and thank everyone involved for their vision and determination, especially Dr. Jacobs.”
Project construction is expected to begin in fall 2017 and will occur in four phases over the course of 26 months, according to city documents.
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