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City shifts focus of Balboa Park centennial to two big events for locals

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As part of a scaled-down plan now run by the city, kings, queens and prime ministers won’t be the target audience for the Balboa Park centennial celebration next year.

Instead, the city will focus on drawing residents to the yearlong celebration “by San Diegans for San Diegans,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Friday at a news conference.

“It’s not about holding a grand spectacle that attracts kings and queens to San Diego,” Faulconer said. “The celebration is about honoring the 1915 Panama-California exposition that put our city on the world map and that ensures Balboa Park remains San Diegans’ crown jewel for the next century.”

Faulconer said the city will partner with the Balboa Park Conservancy and the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership to “promote, celebrate and elevate” the park in a transparent and collaborative way. The plan is “practical and realistic” and builds a foundation for Balboa Park’s future, he said.

The Balboa Park Committee will receive quarterly updates and the public will have the opportunity to present ideas and weigh in on plans. There wasn’t a specific dollar amount provided for the celebration, but Faulconer said the city won’t plan the event with an amount that is unachievable.

“The 2015 celebration is going to get San Diegans to fall back in love with Balboa Park over again and [help] to make the improvements that will last for generations to come,” Faulconer said.

In addition to attracting local visitors, the Tourism Marketing District will spend $2 million on a long-term marketing plan to get the word out to the world about Balboa Park, said Bill Evans, board member of the tourism district.

The marketing district is going to help promote Balboa Park and its cultural institutions and museums, Faulconer said. The Balboa Park Conservancy’s mission is to “make Balboa Park great by raising private donations and organizing volunteer programs.” The conservancy and the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership will be central to 2015’s celebrations.

“We will not promise kings and prime ministers, or a $30 [million] or $100 million party,” City Council President Todd Gloria said. “But we will promise and we will deliver an experience that will bring San Diegans back to the park and set the park up for success for another 100 years.”

The festivities will begin Dec. 5 this year with December Nights, which is managed by the Balboa Park Conservancy.

Ray Ellis, a Balboa Park Conservancy board member, said the 2014 December Nights may have a theme highlighting the park’s history. Two signature events are planned for 2015, and Ellis said the conservancy is exploring the feasibility of those events.

One event will celebrate “the things we do in San Diego,” highlighting technology and innovation sectors, biotech, the military, craft beer, recreation, and arts and culture, Ellis said.

The other will highlight the ethnic, geographic and cultural diversity of San Diego, Ellis said.

He said the four events, including the two December Nights celebrations, will be at “proper scale,” meet expectations and be mindful of time and funding limits.

Annual events such as Earth Day, the Rock and Roll Marathon, Pride Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be incorporated into the 2015 celebrations, Faulconer said.

Gloria said he envisions a centennial with 365 days of events and celebrations.

“The time has come to refocus on productive investments for the benefit of our park. 2015 will be a year of greatness in Balboa Park,” Gloria said. “There will be investments for efficiency upgrades, special seasonal events and exciting exhibitions that are already planned at our incredible cultural institutions.”

The city plans to invest in Balboa Park’s future with the installation of energy-efficient lighting by SDG&E. The utility’s contribution will “significantly fund this undertaking” and supplement city funds that have already been budgeted, Faulconer said.

SDG&E is working with the city to make Balboa Park one of the most “sustainable cultural parks in the world,” said Frank Urtasun, regional vice president of external relations for SDG&E.

SDG&E lit the park for the 1915 exposition and will relight the park for the centennial, Urtasun said. The company is collaborating with the city and CleanTech San Diego “re-energizing the Balboa centennial celebration with our commitment to provide state-of-the-art, emerging technology, wirelessly controlled LED architectural lighting that will stay here beyond the 2015 celebration,” Urtasun said.

Faulconer said he’s confident that the scaled-down plans can be accomplished in the short time before 2015 and at a minimal cost.

So what’s to be salvaged from the Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the disbanded nonprofit that was initially in charge of the celebration?

Gloria said Balboa Park Celebration Inc. made contributions to park institutions to prepare programming for 2015. He said those efforts are salvageable and will make up part of what the city will be doing in 2015.

The city requested a financial and performance audit of Balboa Park Celebration Inc. on March 25, which Faulconer said he supports.

Faulconer said that funds left over from Balboa Park Celebration Inc. will be used for capital projects, such as the lighting by SDG&E, and enhanced landscaping throughout the park. City staff will request proposals for additional food vendors in the park.

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City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

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Todd Gloria

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Myrtle Cole

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Lorie Zapf

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Scott Sherman

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David Alvarez

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Marti Emerald

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