Balboa Park knows how to party.
Most of its iconic architecture came from two major parties — the 1915 Panama-California Exposition brought icons like the California Tower, Cabrillo Bridge and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. And then the city decided to throw another expo to pull itself out of the Depression in 1935. That spurred landmarks like the Spanish Village and The Old Globe.
As the 100-year anniversary of that first expo looms, a gang of city leaders has been scheming initial ideas for a yearlong celebration. They include retired lobbyists Ben and Nikki Clay, Mayor Jerry Sanders and his wife Rana Sampson, City Councilman Todd Gloria and hotelier Mike McDowell.
The organizers formed a nonprofit specifically for 2015, and last week they unveiled a brand for the year of celebration: Edge 2015 — a nod to the idea of discovery and what’s next in technology, art, business and culture.
But even among the optimistic crowd at the brand unveiling last week, Ben Clay acknowledged the project will involve “one heck of a heavy to-do list.”
Here are five hurdles the organizers must clear in order to pull off a massive yearlong party.
• Money: Clay told the U-T San Diego they’re shooting for a $50 million budget. They have $1.1 million in seed money. That means they’ll be looking for foundations, companies, local government and individual donors to contribute.
• Space: You can’t just tell all of the museums to clear their calendars and surrender their spaces to squeeze in 2015-themed exhibits and parties. So the team has to pinpoint spaces where large fair-like operations can happen.
The organizer of San Diego’s now-defunct street music festival, Street Scene, talked about the challenge of finding space for large-scale events in the city in an article in San Diego CityBeat last summer. Could something like Street Scene happen in Balboa Park?
“Where in Balboa Park do you have enough open space that you can have multiple stages?” he said. “You have the Globe, the museums, the zoo. You can’t just block them off and say, ‘Sorry.’”
And organizers are conscious of the impact their events could have on the park grounds.
• Electricity: If you’ve gone to December Nights, the park’s annual wintry weekend festival, you might’ve seen generators scattered throughout the park. The 2015 team saw them, too, at last year’s festival.
It’s got them concerned. Several people I talked to said they worried about the plans to project lights and images on buildings, or to keep museums open late or to power outdoor exhibitions.
“We want to have the capability to not shut the whole thing down when we flip that switch,” Clay said.
That’s an exaggerated fear, according to SDG&E. There’s enough electricity already in the park to handle double the demand as the most intense day last year, an SDG&E spokeswoman said. But the electricity grid in the park needs some upgrades, which SDG&E has begun working on. Part of that effort left the park in the dark this week between 10 p.m. Tuesday and about 6 a.m. Wednesday.
• Renovations: The list of needed fixes to buildings and infrastructure in Balboa Park is long. The committee will likely lean on the city and private donors to make some a priority, especially in spaces that could house events for the centennial. The municipal gymnasium needs a new roof. The Museum of Man’s electrical network needs fixing. The Starlight Bowl’s plumbing needs some work, and the bowl’s wooden stairs are deteriorating. We surveyed some of you recently about what projects should come next, and we’ll also take a closer look at the projects on the park’s maintenance and building wish-list in a future post.
“It’s never sexy to talk about the foundations and the water and the sewer,” Clay said. “But you know, after 100 years, we have to talk about it.”
And the existing spaces might require more than just touch-ups. Ann Berchtold brought her Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair to the park’s Activity Center last month. The building’s known best by the city’s badminton players, but Berchtold had a vision of hosting her fair there. The weather brought a heat wave that weekend, and she had to request a special maintenance visit from city workers to help connect more electricity to turn on more fans in the space.
“It was a huge logistical challenge,” she said. “We used the metaphor of camping. Build everything in and take everything out.”
• Connections: There are dozens of groups, large and small, in the park. There are lots of people who want to volunteer. And there are tons of ideas about how the party should look, what it means to celebrate 2015, how each organization can work on its own mission and still collaborate with its neighbors. Integrating all of those — and the people who live all over the region — into a coordinated and cohesive series of events will be a challenge.
The park draws people for myriad reasons. You can go there if you have no money, or you can go and pay for lunch or a play and a museum admission. I’ll be interested to watch how organizers integrate the park’s visitors of all different economic means into the celebration.
• Fireworks: Too soon? I did hear a couple of chuckles when a picture of the Coronado Bridge being lit by fireworks flashed up on the screen. The concept is to light that bridge so San Diegans all over town on New Year’s Eve 2014 can still be part of the event even if they aren’t directly in the park.
But, as someone near me said after the presentation last week, it’s a tough sell in the year of the “Big Bay Bust,” when all of our fireworks exploded in one confusing moment this July 4.
What do you hope to see in 2015? Leave us a note below.
I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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