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Two Year Later, Balboa Park Tests Common 'Passport'

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After more than two years of planning, seven of Balboa Park's cultural institutions have approved the first combination ticket ever devised there. The "Passport to Balboa Park" will be offered as of June 1 for $8, allowing patrons to visit up to four of those institutions, depending on which ones they choose.

"On June 1, this Passport will provide entry to the largest cultural complex west of the Potomac," said chairman of the Passport committee, Pamela Crooks, who is also marketing manager of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center. Only the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is larger than Balboa Park's gathering of museums and science centers.

"Over the years, many visitors, particularly those from out of the city, have asked, 'Why can't I buy one ticket?' " Bill Immenschuh, chairman of the Balboa Park Association and president of the Aerospace Museum, told the gathering of press at the San Diego Museum of Art yesterday. "But such a concept proved complicated, what with the many variables of different ticket fees, hours and such. But now seven institutions have joined in our first cooperative effort."

Crooks has headed the committee of professional marketing and public relations personnel from those seven institutions during the past two years to come up with a viable plan. "Now we're at the point," she said yesterday, "when we want to be recognized as the largest cultural gathering in the West and also the best. To do that, we need to be unified. We can increase admissions and revenues to all the museums by encouraging visits to several at once; we'll all benefit."

She acknowledged the Passport provides a good marketing tool for the institutions as well. It will be sold wholesale to tour operators who will then package a day's visit to Balboa Park as they wish.

The $8 Passport has a value of up to $10.50. Here's how it works: Each Passport contains six perforated coupons good for adult admissions only. The museums will collect the coupons according to their weighted admission fees. It will take three coupons each to visit the San Diego Museum of Art (regular admission singularly at the museum is $4) and the Fleet Space Theater and Science Center (regular admission $4.50), two coupons to visit the Natural History Museum (regular admission $3), and one coupon each to visit the Aerospace Historical Center (regular admission $3), the Museum of Photographic Arts (regular admission $2), the San Diego Hall of Champions (regular admission $1), and the Museum of Man (regular admission $2).

The Passport's coupons cannot be used in conjunction with cash, and they are sometimes not good for special exhibitions at the institutions. A flyer inside each Passport will inform the patron as to current exhibitions, whether they are eligible, and the price of children's admissions. For example, the Passport is not good for the current special major retrospective of Dr. Seuss' works at the San Diego Museum of Art, but can be used to view the museum's permanent collection.

As to why the Passport wasn't developed for children's admissions as well, Crooks said it was just "too difficult to develop one now, but that's not to say we won't in the future." The varied admission prices are typically low for children and those under 5 are admitted free to every institution in the park except the Space Theater where those 4 and under are admitted free.

The museums will then turn the coupons into a central collection agency for reimbursement. The House of Hospitality has agreed to perform this task.

Barbara Fleming, secretary-treasurer of the Passport committee and director of public information at SDMA, pointed out that the Passport will not necessarily increase attendance at the park, but is projected to increase attendance per museum. She said the museums currently garner 1.8 visits per park visitor, while the committee's projections place that figure to three visits. Attendance last fiscal year to all Balboa Park museums was 1.6 million visitors.

The Passport concept was made possible with seed money contributed by California First Bank ($3,000) and Target Stores ($2,000). Ron Kendrick, senior vice president and regional administrator at Cal First, said "Cal First is especially honored to help sponsor this program as the oldest bank founded in San Diego in 1883 since Balboa Park is one of the oldest treasures in the city. This is a magnificent way for all of San Diego to benefit from this treasure."

Immenschuh noted that Kendrick grew up on Sixth Avenue so that Balboa Park was his playground. The Museum of Man was the first museum the lad ever visited.

This isn't the first donation to the park by Cal First. The bank has donated nearly $250,000 over the last five years to Balboa Park itself as well as its individual facilities, including the Old Globe, the Zoo, the Museum of San Diego History, and Aerospace Museum, and the Japanese Friendship Garden that's still in the planning stages.

The Passport will be sold at all participating museums as well as the information center in the House of Hospitality.

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