Plaza de Panama Project Nearing Decisive Vote - NBC 7 San Diego

Plaza de Panama Project Nearing Decisive Vote

Bypass bridge, paid parking garage are flashpoints



    A controversial makeover project for Balboa Park comes up for a final vote at City Hall next week.

    And after three years of planning, plotting and fundraising, it still faces substantial pushback in the community.

    The $40 million scheme to remove vehicles from the heart of the park involves a hotly debated bypass bridge that would divert traffic across El Prado to an 800-space underground garage -- topped with landscaping -- to be built on the current site of a 365-space, free parking lot behind the Organ Pavilion.

    Environmental concerns about the structure, and the fact that motorists would be charged to park there, have accelerated opposition to the project.

    Vote Near for Balboa Park Makeover

    [DGO] Vote Near for Balboa Park Makeover
    A controversial makeover project for Balboa Park comes up for a final vote at City Hall next week.
    (Published Thursday, July 5, 2012)

    Nobody's really defending the traffic and parking spaces in Plaza de Panama, the park’s epicenter, where Qualcomm co-founder and his Plaza de Panama Committee will underwrite most of the work needed to create a promenade for the centennial celebration of San Diego's 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

    The proposed parking structure would cost the city around $14 million.

    To bankroll construction and operating expenses that would include tram service, the basic parking charge figures to run five bucks for five hours -- more for special occasions.

    Tourists using the current asphalt parking lot south of the Organ Pavilion on Sunday didn’t seem to view the fees as an issue.

    "Probably the average visitor is going to spend three to five hours (in the park) anyway, and a dollar per hour is not that bad, said Jeff Peckham, a Colorado Springs resident.

    "They charged me $25 in my hotel last night to park my car,” recalled Robert Sant, a Yuma resident. “So it's very reasonable for me to park for five dollars."

    Said Laura Zajdman, of West Los Angeles: "Five dollars is not bad, compared to LACMA parking in L.A. That's ten dollars."

    Studies of how extensively the garage would be used anticipate daytime occupancy on weekends at 61 percent, with better than break-even revenues of about $2.5 million a year – the surpluses, to be kept in reserves.

    But critics warn that this first-ever parking charge could spread to other lots in the park, and that fees could escalate if costs outrun income.

    "You're going to limit the amount of people that come to the park, because some people can't afford to pay for parking," said Doyle Morrison, a National City resident who does volunteer work for Balboa Park’s House of Ireland.

    "The paid parking in the parking structure might be good for some people, if they're coming just to go to the Old Globe Theatre,” Morrison added. “ But there's much more to the park that people can experience other than that."

    The centennial makeover project will be taken up by the City Council at its 2 p.m. session Monday.

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