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Balboa Park Centennial plans under way

With Balboa Park’s centennial less than a year and a half away, planners and producers are busily preparing for an ambitious yearlong celebration intended to draw international attention to San Diego and showcase the city’s offerings.

The 15-member Centennial Committee was tasked with kick-starting the planning process for the celebration.

Established and funded by the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, the committee has hired Los Angeles-based Autonomy to produce the event and San Diego firm Marketing Partnership Solutions to market the celebration and devise a corporate sponsorship strategy.

Two of the biggest question marks regarding the celebration -- to be held in 2015, the 100-year anniversary of the park -- have been how much funding will be needed and where the money will come from.

At a news conference in June to unveil plans for the celebration, Mayor Bob Filner estimated that it would cost $30 million to get the celebration “off the ground,” $50 million to make it good, and $100 million for it to be spectacular.

Gerry Braun, Centennial Committee spokesman, would not comment on those figures, except to say that the committee has not disclosed publicly any estimates on how much the celebration will cost or a fundraising goal.

Autonomy has said it would be a “multimillion-dollar” production, but that programming could be scaled to the amount of funding raised.

The mayor also had said funding would come from private sources, philanthropic organizations, and corporate sponsorships and donations.

Marketing Partnership Solutions President and CEO Barry Siegel said his firm has been identifying potential corporate sponsors locally and internationally.

These sponsorships, he said, would not only financially support the celebration events, but also give those companies an opportunity to showcase their vision of the future.

Though Siegel said there were “no specifics to discuss” at this point as to how much the sponsorship packages will cost, he said the firm has completed market analysis and is preparing presentations for potential corporate partners.

He said more information would be available in September, when MPS is ready to begin approaching corporate sponsors.

With roughly 700 individual events throughout the year, Braun said, there were plenty of prospects for sponsorship.

“There are a lot of opportunities for sponsors to put their name to an event or a venue, to come in at a very high level and have a presence in everything that happens,” he said. “We have a lot of entry points for companies.”

Three of four major events were announced at the June news conference with the mayor and Autonomy partners Phil Green and Adam Burke.

One of these “spectaculars” will involve a gala weekend at Balboa Park commemorating the 1915 Panama-California Exposition with period music and costumes.

There are also plans for a water show to honor the Navy and Port of San Diego, and a made-for-television concert at Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border featuring musical acts from both countries.

The fourth event would be a surprise, Green and Burke said.

Autonomy was selected by the Balboa Park Centennial Inc. Programming Committee in 2012 to develop creative program concepts.

A key factor in choosing the firm, according to Braun, was Autonomy’s experience as producers of the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence in Mexico City in 2010.

Although the Centennial Committee has dropped the “Edge 2015” moniker from the celebration, innovation will still be a core theme in the programming, along with cultural diversity and play.

Forbes named San Diego the second-most inventive city in the world, MPS’s Siegel noted.

“We want to build on the idea that we are America’s Finest City,” he said. “We’re certainly thought of for vacations, sun and sand, but we also want to let the community, San Diegans, Southern California, the country and the world see how companies here and around the country can showcase what they’re doing as innovators.”

Siegel said a yearlong symposium of speakers, something like San Diego’s own TED conference, will feature internationally renowned speakers presented in conjunction with local cultural institutions, universities and business leaders.

Housed in a temporary structure in Balboa Park, the forums will focus on shelter, communication, health, culture, movement and play.

The Plaza de Panama will be transformed into Celebration Plaza, featuring a rotating series of international festivals involving artists, musicians, performers, chefs, celebrities and dignitaries from various countries.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion will become the Centennial Stage, and will be the venue for major public performances and speakers. The venue also will be enhanced with world-class sound and lighting, Autonomy’s Green and Burke said.

The partners expect to have events mapped out by the end of the year.

The plan put forth by Qualcomm’s Irwin Jacobs to remove cars from the center of Balboa Park and reroute traffic to a new bypass bridge and parking garage may be dead, but the park is transforming in less grandiose ways in preparation for the centennial.

Jacobs’ $45 million plan drew criticism from preservationists who claimed that building the bypass would change some of Balboa Park’s most historical features. After a judge struck down the plan, Filner came up with a much simpler, $300,000 scheme to remove the parking spaces from the Plaza de Panama. The plaza was recently outfitted with tables, chairs and umbrellas, with planters to be added in the coming weeks.

Braun said the Centennial Committee cannot make permanent changes to the park and has no plans to alter its physical appearance.

“The city is going to make some efforts to spruce up the park, but I can’t speak to what those efforts are,” Braun said.

The city did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Mayor Filner’s plan to close Cabrillo Bridge to cars on weekends and holidays has been put on hold. Many neighbors and leaders of park institutions had opposed the move, which was part of Filner’s broader plan to remove cars entirely from the Plaza de Panama.

But residents and businesses, as well as park institutions, will get an idea of how the bridge closure will affect the neighborhood when Caltrans closes Cabrillo to vehicular traffic early next year.

Caltrans and the city will complete a seismic retrofit and rehabilitation of the Cabrillo Bridge at Laurel Street beginning in September. The $38 million project involves removal and replacement of unsound concrete and steel reinforcement. The work on the bridge deck will occur between January and April, when cars will be detoured. The bridge will remain open to pedestrian and nonmotorized traffic throughout the project.

Filner’s plans also call for lighting the Coronado Bridge the entire year, world-class museum exhibits and new, bigger trams to bring people into and around the park.

He also noted that San Diego Gas & Electric has committed to pay for installation of as much as $30 million of microgrid technology, which would allow the entire park to run on renewable energy.

-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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