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Study searches for funding for Balboa Park infrastructure

Report says park needs $444 million of essential work
Balboa Park Prado Building
Posted at 6:33 AM, Feb 16, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - At more than 100 years old, Balboa Park — the "Jewel of San Diego" — has lost a little luster, and it will take hundreds of millions of dollars to make it shine for the next 100 years.

"There are millions of dollars of maintenance and upkeep that needs to be taken care of," says Tad Parzen, the President and CEO of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement. "Drainage, facades, structural integrity, plumbing, electrical, all the non-sexy stuff."

Parzen's group just published a study, "Preparing for Balboa Park's Next 100 Years." It found the park needs $444.2 million worth of key infrastructure maintenance. But Parzen says finding the funding for all of that is difficult.

That's why the report lists seven ideas to help:

  • A revenue measure, like a sales or parcel tax or a bond, that the public could approve in an election
  • A commitment from the City of San Diego to dedicate a portion of the current or future hotel taxes (Transient Occupancy Tax) to the park
  • Increased fundraising from nonprofit groups
  • Creating a "Property Business Improvement District" to manage the park and its myriad issues
  • More commercial activity in the park, like new restaurants, shopping, or other activities that could raise money through rent, taxes, or both
  • An oversight committee to manage funding, construction, and more
  • Creating a separate, cabinet-level city department that deals specifically with Balboa Park

Parzen says it will take a combination of all these ideas to make sure Balboa Park stays beautiful.

"If we lose this asset, we lose so much of what is San Diego," he says. "We can't let that happen, it's too important to fail."

It's an issue City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, whose district includes the park, is well aware of.

"We still consider Balboa Park our Crown Jewel," Whitburn says. "If we want to keep Balboa Park as the crown jewel that we know that it is we've got to invest in taking care of the park and we've got to make sure that we're doing that in an efficient and effective manner."

That's not to say the City has neglected the park. ABC 10News has covered numerous projects over the past few years to beautify the park and upgrade its attractions.

Nine new houses have opened as part of the International Cottages. The Citybuilt a new plaza in front of the Air and Space Museum. The historic carousel underwent a major restoration. The Botanic Garden building is being completely rebuilt. And there's a new deck around the Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

But Parzen says all of that is cosmetic. His group's study focuses on the essential areas that keep Balboa Park in working order.

"It seems fine," Parzen says "But if we don't hurry up and do something, we're going to be in trouble and lose this asset."

The study doesn't offer any conclusions. Instead, Parzen says it's a starting point to a broader conversation that San Diego needs to have to keep the Park as beautiful as ever.