Balboa Park centennial event organizers end efforts

The Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

SAN DIEGO — Amid a series of financial and management problems, a nonprofit organization formed to organize a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park, the city’s “crown jewel,” is calling it quits.

Balboa Park Celebration Inc. is disbanding and turning over its financial records and responsibilities to City Hall, officials said.

The group found that there was “simply not much appetite in the corporate community” for sponsoring such a celebration, Gerry Braun, the group’s media outreach coordinator and now its transition director, said Wednesday on KPBS radio.


After being allocated $2.8 million from the city in 2011 to begin its efforts, the group had hoped to put together a centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition at Balboa Park, a seminal event in San Diego history.

The goal was to organize concerts and other civic bashes throughout 2015, bringing visitors and dignitaries from around the world. During the tenure of ex-Mayor Bob Filner, a goal of raising $50 million was discussed.

Two of the celebration’s biggest boosters were current Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Council President Todd Gloria. In a video advocating the idea, Gloria said the celebration would “reintroduce Balboa Park to the world.”

The 1915 celebration drew an estimated 4 million visitors to San Diego, then a city of 40,000. President Woodrow Wilson pushed a button in Washington to open the celebration.

The exposition celebrated the recent completion of the Panama Canal and the fact that San Diego was the closest U.S. port.

The nonprofit group was battered by turnover among its top executives and problems in finding sponsors. The final straw may have been when it refused to make public documents showing how the $2.8 million has been spent.


The event that was meant to enhance civic pride — and its tourist economy — is now wavering somewhere between a joke and a scandal.

In a joint statement, Faulconer and Gloria noted the planning group’s “lack of significant progress achieving its goals.”

Faulconer said he plans to work with Gloria to “move forward with a more practical and realistic celebration.”