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Balboa Park sky wheel organizer blames 'bureaucratic hurdles' for suspension of plan

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Posted at 6:01 PM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 21:06:07-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — One of the organizers behind the observation wheel once planned for Balboa Park claim the project was halted because of "bureaucratic hurdles."

The city, however, says that wasn't the case.

In a statement on Thursday, Ben Pickett, Vice President of Sky Views of America, and Molly Bowman-Styles, President of Windansea Communications, claimed earlier reports of the "Balboa Park Star" project being stopped due to pandemic-related challenges were not true.

Instead, the two said several "bureaucratic hurdles" prevented the project from moving forward.

RELATED: Plans for observation wheel in Balboa Park suspended

"The number of bureaucratic hurdles we were expected to cross made it virtually impossible to secure the city’s approval for a temporary attraction in Balboa Park. We had hoped the city would view our project as another opportunity to lend a helping hand to businesses and nonprofits struggling for survival during the pandemic. But that was not the case," a statement from Pickett and Bowman-Styles read.

This week, a city spokesperson said that "challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic" prompted David Cohn, of the Cohn Restaurant Group, to suspend the plan, after the restaurant group and Sky Views of America first proposed the project in October.

In response to Thursday's statement, a spokesperson stood by the city's earlier statement, saying Cohn notified the city that the project was being put on hold due to business challenges, "specifically the need to commit more time and energy to their restaurants."

"The proposal was supported by the Balboa Park Committee with the understanding that additional diligence would be needed given the complexities of putting an observation wheel in the heart of San Diego’s crown jewel. The City was clear and transparent about the health, safety and operational considerations required, but the expedited timeline proposed didn’t provide adequate time to perform this work.

The Cohn Restaurant Group notified the City it would be suspending this effort due to business challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, most specifically the need to commit more time and energy to their restaurants that would have otherwise been dedicated to working with the City and the community to move this project forward."

Last December, the project gained a majority of support from the city's Balboa Park Committee, but members said the sky wheel still needed to sort out issues surrounding the site plan, public safety, liability, permitting, and institutional outreach.


Pickett and Bowman-Styles added that "a small but vocal group of San Diegans who, instead of responding to our offers to meet with us to discuss the project, resorted to attacking it," also contributed to the suspension of the plan.

During that same December meeting, concerns were voiced on behalf of some nearby residents and visitors that the attraction would not fit with the park's style.

ABC 10News reached out to the Cohn Restaurant Group this week but has yet to hear back.