San Diego

Flashback to Balboa Park Centennial: City Tightens Contract Reporting

There's finally closure–and an unexpected flashback–to a failed city project that cost taxpayers nearly $3 million a few years ago.

The original centennial plans for Balboa Park’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition never took shape.

In the aftermath of the failure, in May 2015 the County Grand Jury recommended–among other bits of guidance–the enforcement of reporting duties involving the city's outside contractors.

The city’s formal response to that advice was left pending.

On Wednesday, closing what may as well be the last chapter of the episode, the City Council's Budget and Government Efficiency Committee got details about "periodic" and annual updates that will now be required.

The city’s contract administrator is responsible for staying on top of things.

In the case of the centennial celebration, the outside contractor’s problems weren't discovered until "too little, too late", so to speak.

"They were in this brutal Catch-22 that just ate them alive,” said Andrew Keatts, who extensively covered the ill-fated civic undertaking for Voice of San Diego. “And what they eventually did was spend all the money that was given to them on consultants that came up with not much of substance."

What amounted to seed money from the Tourism Marketing District couldn't legally be applied to performance events.

So once $2.8 million was spent for causes of promotional efforts to attract visitors, especially hotel guests, officials concluded that the nonprofit contractor Balboa Park Celebration Inc. couldn't deliver on the extravaganza.

Without further funding, BPCI shut down after going through three chief executives, missing key deadlines, and withholding financial records.

The city wound up incorporating the programs of the park's museums and cultural institutions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Expo.

Park preservationists are now planning a 2018 ballot measure to raise $250 million to $350 million to upgrade and maintain what's known as San Diego's “crown jewel”.

"That solves a lot of problems,” said David Lundin, founder and president of the Balboa Park Heritage Assn. “And it can be financed through and one and a half to two and a half percent increase in the hotel tax. Which is kind of available now that the Chargers have left. And there's an opportunity there."

By the way, Balboa Park has another anniversary coming up next year–its 150th anniversary of being established in 1868, a sesquicentennial.

Can San Diegans look forward to at least modest, if not grandiose, plans for that?

Either way, 2019 is projected as the year the new Plaza de Panama look officially hatches.

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