Balboa Park Renovation Plan Under Fire

Plan Would Create Bypass Off Cabrillo Bridge, Make Area Pedestrian-Friendly

A plan to renovate Balboa Park's historic Plaza de Panama is coming under fire.

Last August, Mayor Jerry Sanders announced support for a plan to remove traffic from the plaza. Philanthropist Dr. Irwin Jacobs assembled a committee to help raise and estimated $33 million for the privately funded project.

However, preservationists groups believe the current plan would destroy the character of the entrance, which was built in 1915.

"We think this is one of the most damaging projects to be proposed for Balboa Park in 40 years," said Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organization, known as SOHO.

The plan's goals are to restore the plaza to its original state as a pedestrian-only area and to ease parking congestion.

The proposed project would re-route traffic by building a bypass off the Cabrillo Bridge that would wrap around the Museum of Man annex and end at a proposed two-story parking garage behind the Organ Pavillion, which is off Pan American Road.

Jacobs said the bypass would not impact the Cabrillo Bridge.

"The bypass is actually east of the Museum of Man, so there's already a building just to the north of where this bypass would be and to the west of it and so it has nothing to do with the bridge," Jacobs said during a radio interview with KPBS.

Coons said SOHO is one of more than a dozen preservation and architecture groups that oppose the plan. He said the plan does not meet standards of treating historical property that are set by the Secretary of the Interior.

"Under the standard, the last place you make changes to an important historic landmark is the very front and the center of the front," said Coons.

Coons said SOHO supports any project that would make the plaza more pedestrian-friendly but he believes the project in its current form would be a mistake.

"I think we'll all be sorry," he said. "I think we'll always regret it like we have with the loss of some of the other buildings in the park."

The Balboa Park Committee will hear public comment on the Plaza de Panama renovation plan on Saturday at the Balboa Park Club Ballroom on Pan American West Road.