City Shows Balboa Park (More of) the Money - Voice of San Diego

Nonprofits/Community UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

City Shows Balboa Park (More of) the Money

The city’s latest budget allocates more money for projects at Balboa Park, an iconic park that has at least $300 million in needs.

The city appears poised to throw more cash at Balboa Park projects next year.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Tuesday signed a budget that sets aside about $3 million for projects at the iconic but deteriorating park. His staff penciled in another $1.35 million to back the restoration of the park’s iconic Botanical Building in an upcoming bond.

That’s more than double the amount city budgets have thrown at the park over the last decade but nowhere near the estimated $300 million needed to repair the park’s crumbling infrastructure.

Leaders of two philanthropic groups that support Balboa Park cheered the increased budget allocations and said they’re hopeful more help is on the way.

“This is a big first step and it’s gonna take a decade of steps like this to recover the funding that’s needed to bring the park back up to the standards that we all expect,” said John Bolthouse, executive director of the Friends of Balboa Park.

Balboa Park Conservancy CEO Tomas Herrera-Mishler set a similar tone.

“It’s a very exciting step in the right direction,” Herrera-Mishler said shortly after the City Council and a mayoral staffer confirmed their intention to include the Botanical Building on its list of projects to be supported by an upcoming city bond.

This was particularly good news for the Conservancy.

The group was created in 2011 with the idea that it’d be the city’s chief fundraising partner for Balboa Park. More than five years in, the Conservancy’s still trying to prove its mettle.

The nonprofit’s initial efforts to pull in cash for an overhaul of the Botanical Building, one of the most photographed spots in the park, moved slowly.

Herrera-Mishler, who took the helm of the group last June, said he put fundraising on hold once he arrived so the Conservancy could put together a more compelling vision for its signature project. Now the group’s getting ready to ramp up fundraising efforts again.

Last month, the Conservancy asked the city for help when it learned of the city’s $2 million surplus. The City Council responded Monday by offering $1.35 million through an upcoming infrastructure bond, while giving the Conservancy time to raise cash to cover the rest of the project.

Herrera-Mishler is convinced the Conservancy can raise the additional $850,000 for the Botanical Building project in coming months

He said the Conservancy’s working to put fundraising tools in place and can point to the city’s investment in the project.

“The Conservancy feels very, very confident we can raise the private donations,” Herrera-Mishler said.

The Conservancy CEO said the latest budget allocations bodes well for other fundraising efforts too.

“I’ve had some donors say, ‘We really love Balboa Park and want to support what you’re doing but what’s the city doing to address the deferred maintenance issue? How come they aren’t stepping up to the plate?’ I can say now they’re definitely stepping up to the plate,” Herrera-Mishler said.

Balboa Park supporters had less to celebrate a few months ago.

The mayor’s initial budget included about $1.3 million for improvements in the park. Last month, Faulconer added $350,000 for lighting in the park’s Central Mesa and $1.5 million to rehabilitate the former Naval library building at Inspiration Point.

The mayor’s updated budget also included about $95,000 for a maintenance supervisor at the park.

All told, the park’s now set to see at least $4.5 million in new funding over the next 12 months, beginning in July.

Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district includes Balboa Park, pushed for a maintenance supervisor position and three others as well as infrastructure upgrades in the lead up to the budget vote.

“Balboa Park is our City’s crown jewel and I wanted to make sure it received its fair share of funding during my last budget cycle in office,” Gloria said in a Tuesday statement.

He wasn’t the only advocate for the park during Monday’s City Council vote.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who represents many of San Diego’s beach communities, said she was reminded of the park’s many needs when she gave a visitor a tour of the park the day before the vote.

“It just needs an uplift. It needs to be revitalized,” Zapf said before the unanimous City Council vote on Monday. “There’s too many brown patches of dirt and I spent a long time focusing on that Botanical Building and it is torn up.”

She pledged to continue to push for park fixes after Gloria leaves the City Council later this year.

Zapf will likely have another Balboa Park ally on the City Council come December.

Chris Ward, the next District 3 City Councilman, has promised to form a working group in his first 100 days in office to explore sustainable funding options for the park and prioritize its many needs.

Bolthouse and Herrera-Mishler are excited to see what Ward and current city officials come up with for the park in the future. Both groups want to ensure the park’s many needs aren’t forgotten.

“We need to keep it at the forefront of everyone’s attention,” Bolthouse said.

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