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State Official Says Balboa Park Could Lose Historic Designation

A state official says a plan to re-route cars out of Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama could put the park’s historic designation at risk.

— The proposal to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama calls for building an access road off the Cabrillo Bridge and building a parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs are supporting the plan. Jacobs is also a supporter of KPBS.

In a letter to the National Park Service, California’s State Historic Preservation Officer, Milford Wayne Donaldson, said the proposed changes to the park may mean it no longer qualifies for a National Historic Landmark designation.

But David Marshall, the city’s preservation consultant for the project, said changing one section isn’t enough to risk the park’s designation.

“Balboa Park is made up of dozen historic buildings and gardens and the whole group works together as a unit,” he said.

Marshall said the project falls under the category of rehabilitation, which allows for new uses at historic sites. The project is not receiving state or national funding, and doesn’t need approval at those levels. But Marshall said he’d like to talk to the state preservation office to find out more about its objections and how they can be dealt with.

In his letter, Donaldson calls the project unnecessary and intrusive. The Save Our Heritage Organization publicized the letter locally. In a news release, SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons called Donaldson’s letter a severe blow to the project. He said if Balboa Park lost its historic status, it could jeopardize federal funding for other projects in the park.

But Marshall said the letter wouldn’t affect the timing of the Plaza de Panama project. Supporters hope to have it complete in time for Balboa Park’s centennial celebration in 2015.

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