Balboa Park Plaza getting remodeled and causing controversy

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Photo from SD Dirk via Flickr.There is currently a plan in progress to remodel the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park that is causing some controversy amongst San Diegans.

The plan is to remodel the entire plaza to make it resemble its image back in 1915, a time where the Plaza de Panama was a place for pedestrians to gather and hold social and special events. Now, the plaza is more of a traffic nightmare where there is hardly any walking space. City officials want to demolish all roads and parking in the Plaza de Panama and make it strictly for pedestrian movement, and the reconstruction would cost approximately $5-6 million.

The exact project description of this centennial project states that:

The Plaza de Panama, located between the Museum of Art, Timken Museum, the House of Charm and the House of Hospitality, was considered the “living room” of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. It has since been taken over by automobiles for parking and circulation.

The Central Mesa Precise Plan recommends returning the Plaza to a primarily pedestrian space while allowing for minimal vehicular circulation, but no parking. The Plaza de Panama currently has approximately 34 time-limited parking spaces and 21 accessible parking spaces; these spaces would need to be relocated to surrounding parking lots or eliminated entirely.

Plaza improvements include enhanced paving, decorative traffic bollards, site furniture (benches, tables and chairs) and landscaping. All asphalt paving would be removed and replaced with enhanced paving. The existing concrete paving at the perimeter of the plaza is in poor condition and should be replaced as well. Parking loss is minimal, and could be mitigated to other locations in the Park. This project is consistent with the adopted policy documents and has strong community support.

The full memorandum can be viewed here.

Photo from aarmono via Flickr.Some San Diegans are supportive of the plan, saying that they think it would be a good idea as long as there is still easy access for people to get to the museums. Others, however, feel that this reconstruction would only worsen the parking situation in Balboa Park, which seems inadequate as is. Although there would be less parking space with this new plan, the transportation within the park would improve with added trolleys and more stops. However, this will also cost another $3-4 million.

The cost of the reconstruction is a general concern of many San Diegans, especially in our economic situation at the time.  Nevertheless, Mayor Jerry Sanders assures San Diegans that the reconstruction would not negatively affect the budget and that the city is very capable of affording the plan. He also says that the reconstruction will bring more visitors into the park, increasing the already well-budgeted revenue from the park’s hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The restoration project is scheduled to be finished by 2015 and includes restoring many park buildings to their original aesthetic. Over the last 100 years, many buildings were remodeled, or torn down and replaced. Several buildings lack the detail work which adds to the character of the park. Overall, the project is meant to return Balboa Park to what it looked like when it was first established.

*Photos from aarmono and SD Dirk via Flickr.

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