We’ve examined what happened to the organization charged with mounting a gigantic festival to celebrate the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. But what will happen now? What can happen with only nine months to go until the year is here?

First, it looks like there’s going to be an audit of Balboa Park Centennial, Inc., or BPCI. The City Council’s Environmental Committee requested an audit and some options from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith about what the city can do to recover assets.

The Tourism Marketing District still has the money it budgeted for promoting the centennial sitting in an account, awaiting the new plans. That’s almost $2 million for marketing whatever event Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council President Gloria announce.

“Our board is keeping it there, to find out what the plan is for Balboa Park,” Lorin Stewart, the TMD executive director, said. “So if there are programs that can market the city, to feeder markets outside, that can be promoted or sold, then that’s where TMD could come in and be happy to support that.”

Gloria has said the final event will still have a large tourism component and will “befit something as deserving as Balboa Park.”

And not all of the money’s been wasted. Almost $300,000 of the shuttered Balboa Park Celebration Inc.’s expenditures went to museums and institutions in the park to plan their own events.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, The Old Globe, The Model Railroad Museum, the Museum of Man and the Museum of Photographic Arts each got between $24,000 and $55,000 to plan their contributions. You can see all the financial information here.

These institutions have vowed to make us proud.

One of the main contractors BPCI put in charge of programming the event, Autonomy, produced big plans to introduce a more cultural side of San Diego to the world. Perhaps they’re worth something still.

Utopia, the contractor brought in to deliver the event program after Autonomy was fired, briefed Gloria on options in February, before BPCI shut down.

The city could pursue a “regional” celebration, which would call on the awe-inspiring vision initially put forward, and showcase the park and city as “a model of technological, artistic and commercial achievement and innovation.”

That would require an $11.8 million budget, according to Utopia.

Or, the city could finally settle on a local event, and let go of the dream of reaching people from Angola and Geneva to tell them about how cool our city’s becoming.

This scaled-back plan would cost $1.9 million, much less than what the city and TMD have already spent.


    This article relates to: Arts/Culture, Balboa Park, News, Parks, Share

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Pick a week in the spring or summer of 2015. A month beforehand, send every San Diego County resident a free one week Explorer type pass that let's them and their families into all the museums and the Zoo for just that week. Watch how fast the park fills up with residents and visitors. Have local media cover the crowds, and see how many people, having had a free taste, buy year round Explorer Passes to take their families back to their favorite venues. Earmark a percentage of additional revenues from the extra pass sales for park maintenance. Time for the park institutions to invest in this event. In the meantime, fill the newly car free Plaza de Panama with donated artworks. I'm sure someone will want to donate the funds to build a statue of Jerry Sanders, who brought us the BPCI fiasco, right?

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Museums close early, making BP quite dead most evenings apart from the Prado restaurant and the Old Globe complex. Marketing the park is mediocre at best.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Apparently SD also will not support a grand BP Centennial Celebration any more than it supports opera. Our watered-down event, announced by Todd Gloria, will include two pumped-up December Nights, two other special events, needed facility maintenance, and, as usual, special exhibitions at museums. No boats on a flooded route 163, no zip line from California Tower to the Zoo, no anything to attract tourism.

    Paulo subscriber

    We Definitely need to focus on San Diego as well as the youth.  Have local artist shows put on by the Casbah, Soma, LED at the Organ Pavillion.  Dedicate space in the museums for local artists from high school to street artists currated by MCASD. Farmers markets that highlight different communities put together by the SD Farm Bureau. Entrepreneur showcase that can share the ideas and inventions of our locals organized by SD Reddit Entrepreneurs.  X-Games highlighting San Diego's love for action sports.  Host a Freestyle Session (break dancing event) world finals which was created by San Diego's own Cros1.   I never go to Balboa Park because I feel there is nothing there for me.  When I was young, I would go every other weekend and watch the break dancers but that is long gone. In SF, right by the cable car turn around, there were speakers set up and people dancing.  We need more out of the box ideas that will want people to showcase the events in social media, which would in turn, attract people to San Diego from all over the world. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Paulo If you never go to Balboa Park, you are not alone.  I suspect that, except for the zoo, as many as 50% of county residents have never been to Balboa Park.  Let's check it out with a simple phone survey.  If I'm right, perhaps a scaled back plan to show locals all the park has to offer makes sense.   

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscriber

    Exactly what are the credentials for those saying there's "so little time."? Those who still think the concept to attract millions ($ and people) was sound to begin with? For the record, one of the largest events ever in Balboa Park - the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990 - was conceived by a small group of volunteers only in the November just before and didn't really start getting organized until the January before. 

    There's plenty of time to still do wonderful things if only they would work with competent people who deliver and and not those who seem to believe their "market rates" are worth taxpayer's money without producing results. 

    Ducraker subscriber

    @Jim Jones @Carolyn Chase For what it's worth; "December Nights" originally called "Christmas on the Prado" drew 3,000 it's first year 1978.Couldn't source attendance for 1990 but I'm guessing it was less than "third of a million".

    It's become so crowded most long time residents I know don't even bother.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Carolyn if you follow Jim Jones on this site all he does is knock other commenters he never contributes anything positive. So just ignore him.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Jim you just lived up to my prior comment Critical but offering no positive alternative. That is consistent with your track record here.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    A big slice of the money already spent, and that could be spent is tied to "heads on beds".  Seems like people are missing that connection.  The TMD money HAS to be tied to bringing in out of town visitors who will spend the night.  So we can agree with tourism or not but we can't count on that money if it is not central to the event.  

    So a great local or regional event can happen, it just needs funding and leadership from other sources.  This is the central problem with expectations and those we elect.  

    Money has to come from somewhere. 

    Now the problem is both money AND time.  The olympics or the US Open take years to plan and do.  We don't have that time any more.  So maybe our best bet is to look to those groups who have the structure and organization, like the Bowl committees, and fund several events with one brand.  The sum could be more than the total of it's parts. 

     I believe Sharon Gehl has this right. 

    Fred Williams
    Fred Williams subscriber

    I teach software project management to owners and managers of start ups.  Political appointees claimed they used entrepreneurial "start up" methods.  I beg to differ, and offer a genuine start up pivot in an effort to salvage this project.

    No reasonable investor will fund vague promises from a team without experience in producing results.  They insist on seeing at least a working prototype, looking at what similar products you've worked on, and validating your strategy for acquiring users and profits.

    A core principle for start up success is to fail early and pivot to take advantage of what you have learned by failing.  By persistently improving, you'll be better placed to find success.

    Agile methodology focuses on the users:

    * Who are they?
    * What do they want?  

    * Are you looking at the correct users for what you can realistically deliver?

    I question the premise, articulated by Todd Gloria and the San Diego tourism CABAL that the goal is to bring visitors from out of town.  We do not have to define the success of the Centennial by how many heads are put on beds.  

    Change the beneficiary of this public event to someone more worthy...the residents of San Diego.

    If your goal as a start up is to serve as many residents of San Diego as possible, then your priorities will change dramatically.  You will seek out volunteers, look at ways to bring together the residents (and taxpayers) to celebrate what makes San Diego unique.

    You can drop the Hollywood model immediately, and find a San Diego model to emulate.  The most successful events in recent times, Over the Line, ComicCon, Earth Day, Street Scene, "started up" without initial official sanction.  So clearly we must avoid top-down decisions from the political and tourism officials, and seek answers from the community itself.

    San Diego solutions are better than second-rate imitations of what others have done before.  There's no  "Edge" in being anything other than San Diegan in the celebration of the Centennial. 

    I suggest a celebration of what makes San Diego a world famous place to be.  Celebrate the weather, beaches, history, food, and attitudes of San Diego.  Show San Diego's openness to otherness, it's welcoming places for dreamers and thinkers.  San Diego is a home for those who aspire to being more than a spectator to "spectacles".  

    San Diego is not sharp-elbowed Chicago, or pretentious New York.  We aren't fooled by the L.A. glitz.  

    Celebrate San Diego's real advantages -- the ability to share and improve the beaches, preserve natural and historic resources, and San Diego's scientific and technical leadership in finding solutions to difficult problems.  

    San Diego is about beauty before business.  Geraniums instead of smokestacks.

    The Centennial celebration, as a start up, should seek to serve and celebrate the people of San Diego.  Look at what has already been accomplished, and what still is improving in San Diego.

    The 1915 event showed the world to San Diego.  In 2015, let's show San Diego to the world.  The real San Diego, and the real San Diegans, who make it a world class city. 

    Not entertainment.  Not spectacle.  Not shows.

    A start up plan for an event that truly celebrates San Diego will acquire its "users" from San Diego itself, which will lead to real investors wanting to get on board.  When the San Diegans are so well pleased with what they are "using" that they want to invite all their relatives and friends to experience it too, it's genuine product evangelism that investors richly reward.

    Again...if this is a start up, a pivot is an absolute must.  The most fundamental and meaningful pivot is to change your market focus. 

    Stop seeking to serve tourists.  They aren't the right users for this product.  They've got their own stuff to celebrate.

    Celebrate San Diego instead, and serve San Diegans.  Success will follow.

    Sharon Gehl
    Sharon Gehl subscribermember

    Perhaps the idea of a yearlong Centennial Exposition is out of date, something that people don’t do in the US anymore. Even the federal government wasn’t able to come up with a big central celebration that everyone could agree on for the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. They therefore decided to do smaller local celebrations throughout the country.

    If we decide that a big Balboa Park Centennial Celebration is just an outdated idea, we could still do what we did for the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, we could let organizations raise their own money and have a bunch of little parties all year long.

    Gaby Dow
    Gaby Dow subscribermember

    So I posted this comment in your other article, but think it is more appropriate here...

    In late 2012, I helped set up a visit for Mayor Sanders to a tech incubator to meet with a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to share how startups could help transform and modernize city facilities. Sanders asked me to get in touch with the Balboa Park Centennial committee to discuss how startups could be a part of the 2015 celebration... you can see a photo of our meeting here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/243616661063515463/

    I called the committee contact, twice, but never heard back.

    A few months later, the 24-yr old founder sitting across from the Mayor in the photo, a SDSU grad, deployed his solution at the PGA Tour in Torrey Pines (I remember him almost getting kicked out of the press tent as I set up the TV interview on the link below because the Tour media director thought these two kids were hacking into his system, and I had to explain the 'kids' WERE his system): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_4xukHTPSc  

    I don't think there was one member on the Centennial board under age 35 and that is a problem!  Let our brilliant kids take over-- look at how ComicCon took off!!

    The PGA Tour / Locbit video is a perfect example of how our incredible San Diego startups could team up with existing events and programs at Balboa Park to show the world the future.  Imagine an existing festival at the park transformed by 3D Robotics drones, a 5k run boosted by RockMyRun, a park scavenger hunt expanded with use of sensors and mobile phone engagement, etc.... 

    The long-standing organizations and events would benefit by having the startup take them to the next level of efficiency, engagement and creativity; the startups would benefit by having terrific case studies to help them grow / create jobs; and the world would be invited to participate in traditional events and exhibits at the park transformed by the best that our local innovation sector can offer.

    Your analogy to startups wasn't a stretch.... lets do something with  this! 

    And the regional idea is a great one, look at the amazing event Tijuana has pulled off-- Tijuana Innovadora, bringing people like Biz Stone (founder of Twitter) Steve Woz (co-founder of Apple) and Xeni (of BoingBoing) tells you there were YOUNG people on their board planning with the hundreds of volunteers who greeted us when we arrived to see the second iteration of the extravaganza in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niBPt8X6Rxg 

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Put me down as a volunteer on the Balboa Park Sesquicentennial Committee.


    I'll bring a bag of chips

    Dave Long
    Dave Long subscriber

    With whatever money is left the City should apply it towards correcting some of the Deferred Maintenance issues in Balboa Park. Along the way maybe the lawns in the park could be fertilized. Due to past Budget Reductions no fertilizer has been applied to Balboa Park lawns in 3 years. Resolving DM issues will go further in making the Park a destination for tourist and locals alike than showy one time expositions. Time is probably too short at this point for major repair projects but there is loads of painting, window washing, landscape upgrades, tree trimming, roof repairs, sidewalk repairs that could be completed and would go along way toward improving the Park experience for all visitors for years to come.

    Pat McKemy
    Pat McKemy subscriber

    @turn1fanI completely agree with you. Some of the maintenance issues in the Balboa Park must be attended immediately by the City, and also apply some fertilizers too to the lawns. The park needs immediate attention. This negligence is only deteriorating the situation. Hope anybody comes into action.