Coming off the centennial celebration of its 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, Balboa Park faces the next 100 years with dreams of more museums, fewer traffic jams and improved management and upkeep.
As the region’s top tourist attraction, with an estimated 14 million visitors annually, the park generates millions of dollars of direct and indirect spending.
But Balboa Park, established in 1868, is far from complete.Its master plan and specific plans list dozens of projects yet to be completed. And every park support group and elected official has a pet project to promote.
Easily more than $1 billion could be spent on parking and transit improvements; reconstructing or expanding existing museum buildings; and adding major new features like a lake in Florida Canyon or a “lid” over Interstate 5.
“The 2015 celebration has raised the awareness and certainly put the park in the spotlight in an enormous way,” said Tomas Herrera-Mishler, executive director of the Balboa Park Conservancy that raises funds for park improvements. “It’s caused people to start dreaming about what comes in the next century — what do we do next?”
City Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district includes the park, noted more than $60 million spent on park improvements last year, including the restoration of the Cabrillo Bridge and special lighting of park buildings.
“The trick is to keep that momentum going,” he said.
Here’s a closer look at some ideas, big and small, that could reshape San Diego’s “crown jewel.”
Transportation and access
On weekends and holidays, it’s nearly impossible to find close-in parking spaces.
Is the answer a new streetcar or trolley line, aerial gondolas, parking lots and garages?
The issue was at the heart of Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs’ 2010 plan, approved by the City Council and upheld by the courts, to build a bypass bridge off the Cabrillo Bridge to route motorists toward a 600-space parking garage south of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The $45 million project would free up the entire El Prado and Esplanade to the south for pedestrians.
The San Diego Zoo previously won approval for its $300 million Promenade project that would have replaced its 2,700-space parking lot with new animal exhibit space and added an underground garage below a pedestrian walkway to the Prado.
But both projects sit on the shelf awaiting funding. Meanwhile, the zoo built a 650-space garage last year for employees just north of its border with the Old Globe Theatre, freeing up an equal number of spaces in its Park Boulevard lot.
The regional transportation plan envisions an extension of the San Diego trolley up Park Boulevard. Other ideas include a street car line up Sixth Avenue and an aerial skyway from the Gaslamp Quarter to the park’s Alcazar Garden opposite the Old Globe Theatre.
Vicki Estrada, the landscape architect who authored the park’s 1989 master plan, said her dream for 2115 would be a car-free park:
“I imagine I would climb up the California Tower (in 2115) and look out, and I don’t see a single parking lot,” Estrada said.
The access problem could grow increasingly acute if attendance doubles and triples in the next century. New York City’s 843-acre Central Park manages to cope with 42 million visitors annually, compared with Balboa’s 1,172 acres.
Preserving the cultural heart
Balboa Park’s 640-acre exposition grounds are filled with numerous attractions, from the zoo and 15 museums to gardens, theaters and sports venues. The assemblage exceeds the offerings at Central Park, as well as The Mall in Washington, D.C.
Each institution has its loyal membership base and list of generous donors. But in the future, will that base hold? Will the public still visit parks and museums, or retreat to virtual reality experiences?
“Over and over again, it’s been demonstrated that people like to see the real thing on the one hand, and on the other, even if you’re dealing with virtual experiences and technology, there are things that can happen in the museum that can’t happen, at least now, at home, at a monitor,” said David Kahn, a national museum expert who previously headed the San Diego History Center and now runs the Adirondack Museum in upstate New York.
Besides the substance of museums and the zoo, there’s the practical side of maintaining collections and buildings that house them. Should new museum ideas — music, Comic-Con, architecture, technology — be housed in additional park buildings or be located elsewhere in the county?
Peter Comiskey, executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership of 29 institutions, said the future will see more collaboration among the existing museums that will strive to be relevant. Some new museum ideas may be absorbed into existing institutions.
“We really want to encourage the experience of the park as a whole,” he said.
Go to sduniontribune.com/balboa-flyover for simulated aerial tour of Balboa Park and the locations where changes may occur over the next 100 years.
Although much of the original expo complex has been restored and reconstructed, several replacements, such as the Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art’s west wing, did not replicate the original building designs.
The 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition introduced additional buildings in the Palisades area, where some have been rebuilt and repurposed. Some, such as unused Starlight Bowl and buildings occupied by city staff, await ideas for renewing public use.
The Committee of 100, the park’s leading preservation group, champions the reconstruction of some favorites from both expos, but worries about ongoing maintenance.
“We’ve had trouble maintaining a lot of these buildings from both expositions in less than 100 years,” said Mike Kelly, the group’s president, “and 100 more is going to see them getting even older and needing much help.”
He was heartened by Councilman Mark Kersey’s recent citywide infrastructure plan that would set aside a certain percentage of the annual budget for maintenance.
“The buildings of a major tourist destination like Balboa Park should be the highest priority,” Kelly said. “We’d like buildings there to be restored first.”
Every park plan from the 1920s to the 1990s has included big, bold ideas that have yet to be implemented. Here are several that have attracted attention lately:
▪ Deck over Interstate 5: Local architects, planners and park advocates have dusted off long-held goals to cover sections of Interstate 5 and reconnect the park to downtown. They call it “healing the gash.”
“The population growth around the park is increasing, which is a nice thing,” said former city architect Mike Stepner. “But we need more park space.”
Park entrances: The Friends of Balboa Park group is seeking approval to install a pair of $100,000 monumental pillars, on Park Boulevard north of the state Route 163 offramp, to mark the park with a more formal entrance.
“I want to do something that’s very permanent and in keeping with the character of the park,” said retired architect Jack Carpenter, who is leading the effort.
Bridge over Florida Canyon: One big idea would connect the Central Mesa and the East Mesa via a dramatic pedestrian bridge similar to those by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. As envisioned by students at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, such a bridge would begin at the east end of El Prado and extend over Florida Canyon.
Restore native habitat: Florida Canyon would be restored to its native landscape through the closure of Florida Drive, as called for in a 1970s city-approved plan.
Dam the canyon: A more radical idea, also developed by the architecture students, would dam part of the canyon and create a manmade lake, fed by water runoff and reclaimed wastewater that could be recycled for park landscaping.
Reclaim the landfill: Another decades-old goal calls for rehabilitating the 50-acre Arizona Landfill on the East Mesa. It could be capped with fill dirt and turned into a garden or play area. Longer term the trash could be dug out and the original canyon restored. The methane gas currently emitted from the landfill could be captured and used to generate energy for the park.
Close the golf courses: With declining interest in golf nationwide, the park’s 250 acres of golf courses might be removed or consolidated to free up space for more park users. Less politically fraught would be adding surrounding canyon lands to the park and turning them into safe, nature-rich urban hiking paths.
Close the zoo, hospital and schools? A century hence, will the zoo, Naval Hospital and two public schools still occupy parkland? The zoo is building its reputation as an institution that protects endangered species, but its cages and enclosures offend some animal-rights advocates. Future medicine breakthroughs may make the hospital building obsolete by 2115. And growing population pressures and need for parkland may force the schools, Roosevelt Middle School and San Diego High School, to relocate. San Diego High’s 50-year lease expires in 2024 and its extension might require a public vote.
Move the maintenance yard: The city’s maintenance and storage yard at 20th and B streets clearly isn’t a park use, but plans to relocate it and replace it with active recreation facilities remain stalled.
Add a hotel: Just as Legoland and Disneyland have added hotels to their theme parks, Balboa Park could do the same as a way to offer a special experience to visitors and to generate funds for park operations. Possible locations might be the Inspiration Point parking lot east of Park Boulevard or the Roosevelt Middle School site.
Source : http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/growth-development/sdut-balboa-park-future-2016jan03-htmlstory.html