The San Diego City Council has approved a $79 million overhaul of Balboa Park’s central Plaza de Panama, slated to create more than six acres of vehicle-free parkland, gardens and plazas.
City officials said the long-stalled project is being designed to remove vehicle traffic from the heart of the historic park, long deemed a concern of visitors and locals. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2019, the project will convert traffic areas by creating 6.3 acres of pedestrian-friendly park spaces, gardens and plazas, while increasing overall parking space with a new underground garage.
Officials said the project will be financed through a combination of paid parking revenue from a planned 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, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs.
“This public-private partnership will reclaim the heart of Balboa Park for pedestrians and return the Plaza de Panama to its original grandeur,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer in a statement, responding to City Council’s Nov. 14 approval of the project.
The project was originally approved by the City Council in 2012, but was held up by a legal challenge. The courts ultimately sided with project proponents.
Under the current plan, five areas of the century-old park currently lost to parking and traffic will be restored to their historic use as pedestrian park spaces. A completely car-free Plaza de Panama will have major aesthetic improvements, including reflecting pools and more pedestrian amenities.
A new three-level underground parking garage is slated to be built behind the park’s Organ Pavilion, with a 2.2-acre rooftop park and 797 paid parking spaces. Officials said thousands of parking spaces in the park, the vast majority, will remain free.
The project will increase by more than 30 percent the number of accessible parking spaces in the core of the park, officials said. The original 2012 project cost estimate of $45 million was revised to reflect updated state development regulations, prevailing wage considerations and a less competitive bidding market.
In related news, the nonprofit philanthropic San Diego Foundation has announced a $1 million commitment to the Plaza de Panama project.
Also, the San Diego City Council has approved plans to build nine new international cottages in Balboa Park. The cottages will house members of the House of Pacific Relations, a nonprofit organization based in the park that promotes multicultural goodwill and understanding through educational and cultural programs.