Balboa Park Celebration Plans Delayed by Snags, Turnover

San Diego's preparations for a year-long tribute to its "Crown Jewel" -- Balboa Park – haven’t exactly been coming together.

There are now questions as to whether the centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, during which the park made its worldwide debut, turns out as grand as planners had hoped.

Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. (BPCI), the centennial's nonprofit promotional firm, cites “a great deal of excellent programming in the pipeline for 2015.”

But according to a U-T San Diego "watchdog" report, deadlines are falling by the wayside.

Corporate sponsors haven't materialized.

Permits aren't issued.
And key players – executives and creative producers -- keep changing.

Last June BPCI unveiled an ambitious vision for the celebration in a splashy promotional video presentation that announced: “On New Year's Eve, 2014, we will welcome the world to an inclusive celebration that underscores our region's diversity."

Production of the various events were to be handled by principals of Los Angeles-based Autonomy LLC, veterans of producing Mexico's independence bi-centennial festivities in 2010.

“Once you get a group of people organized, excited, focused and they put their best foot forward,” Autonomy’s Adam Burke told NBC 7 at the time, “who knows what could happen?"

But Autonomy hasn’t been in the picture since November, having been replaced by another L.A. outfit.

U-T San Diego says corporate sponsorships are lacking, as are a “comprehensive calendar” of events including “365 days of music.”

Plans for traffic and parking management have been delayed.

Is there still time to rally something that'll rival the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which helped put San Diego on the world map at the time?

And how much would it matter if there isn't?

Interviews with Balboa Park visitors Monday yielded mixed reactions.

"I don't know that it will make a difference for bringing more visitors to the park, because it's already a vacation destination,” said Bankers Hill resident Ron Gaschler. “But I think it should be celebrated and it takes a lot of people to plan such an event. So it's alarming."

Said La Mesa resident Larissa Jones: "Whatever happens would be nice -- just any type of celebration would be cool. But if they're hyping it up like it's going to be something huge and it's not -- maybe they should tone down all their advertising."

"It'd be great to have a celebration,” said Linda Vista resident David Gasaway. “But honestly, just like December Nights, it seems to choke up the park for the locals. So I'm okay either way."

In an email sent to NBC 7 Monday, BPCI spokesman Gerry Braun refers to ex-Mayor Bob Filner as "a de-stabilizing force" in the centennial preparations.

“We expect to report news on funding and sponsorships in 30-90 days," Braun said.

He noted that the 1915 exposition got $1 million in seed money from civic leaders – roughly the level of public funding BPCI has received – “an amount that, if you extrapolate for population and inflation … would be roughly $250 million in today’s dollars.”

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