Problems Rife in Balboa Park; Can Decline Be Reversed?

Balboa Park Problems

After years of raising alarms over deteriorating facilities in Balboa Park, civic activists are planning a "shaming" campaign to get the attention of tourists and park visitors.

They say it’s not hyperbole to say that San Diego's "Crown Jewel" has become tarnished by structural decline that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse -- money that city officials admit they can't scare up in a hurry.

"It's reached crisis proportions," said David Lundin, founder of the Balboa Park Heritage Assocation. "It's certainly condemnation by neglect. If you have a great building and you don't do anything to it for half a century, it begins to fall apart. That's what's happening to the entire park."

Lundin’s group will soon be calling that out in an ad campaign run by one of San Diego’s leading political strategists, displaying images of the problems that figure into a documented $300 million deferred maintenance backlog.

The ads will target arriving passengers at Lindbergh Field and go up on transit that feeds into the park and its vicinity.

One highly visible case in point that illustrates the situation is the run-down Starlight Musical Theater, where performances ended five years ago.

The place has gone more or less untended -- a magnet for the homeless, burglars, vandals and graffiti artists.

Estimates are it would take $16 million worth of upgrades to restore.

Tourists and locals who stopped to talk with NBC 7 on Monday can’t accept how the park has been left to deteriorate.

"This is a highlight of San Diego, and it's why people come here,” said Rancho Bernardo resident Robert Schlamm. “ If you don't take care of it, people are not going to come to San Diego. And that's where the money comes from -- the tourists."

But Balboa Park Heritage activists said it's probably not worth renovating the Starlight because it's under the airport's landing path and jet noise constantly interrupted performances.

They suggest turning it into a grassy amphitheater or restoring it to a natural canyon setting.

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