$33M Restoration Planned At Balboa Park

Qualcomm Co-Found Irwin Jacobs Helping Fund Restoration Of Plaza de Panama

Plans were announced Monday for a privately funded restoration of the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park that focuses on pedestrian rather than vehicle use of the space.

Plaza de Panama, along with many of Balboa Park's architectural center pieces, was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, but since the 1960s has primarily been used as a parking lot.

"The plaza was designed as a grand ceremonial space -- a gathering place for park visitors and a hub of the cultural activities in the heart of Balboa Park," Mayor Jerry Sanders said at an afternoon news conference.

"As you can see, previous generations traded in that vision, and all they got in return was a few dozen parking spaces and the steady drone of automobiles searching for an empty spot," he said.

With funding from Qualcomm Inc. co-founder Irwin Jacobs, an engineering firm has drafted a renovation plan for Plaza de Panama that envisions a road to divert traffic coming off the Cabrillo Bridge, behind the Alcazar Garden and into a two-story parking structure that would have a rooftop garden.

The plaza could then be reclaimed for park and pedestrian uses.

The $33 million project would be privately financed, according to the mayor's office.

Sanders hopes to have the project completed in time for the 2015 centennial celebration of the Panama-California Exposition.

An 11-member Plaza de Panama Committee, headed by Jacobs, has been formed to begin the vetting the idea. The larger Balboa Park Committee has scheduled a Sept. 23 public meeting at the Balboa Park Club on the proposed project.

Joining Sanders at the Plaza de Panama Monday afternoon to discuss the vision for the space was Jacobs, Councilman Todd Gloria and county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.