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Funding Lacking For Underground Parking At Balboa Park, Budget Analyst Says

A plan to finance construction of an underground parking structure next to Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park might not pencil out, the city of San Diego's Independent Budget Analyst concluded in a report issued today.

The garage is a major part of a wider, controversial plan to remove vehicles from the center of Balboa Park, which will be considered by the City Council on Monday. It would be built to replace parking spaces removed by the Plaza de Panama project, which is being pushed by Mayor Jerry Sanders.

While $31 million of the project's cost is expected to be covered by private donations, the city is set to contribute about $14 million for the parking structure. A bond taken out to pay for construction would mostly be repaid with revenue from paid parking in the building, according to the plan.

The IBA warned that if more people than expected opt to use free parking at Inspiration Point, across Park Boulevard, and use a free tram to reach their destination, the city might not be able to meet its annual $1.1 million debt service payment on the structure. The city expects to make $1.3 million in annual parking revenue, but the IBA said income could be $450,000 less.

The idea of charging for parking within the publicly owned park has drawn fire from the plan's opponents and some members of the City Council.

According to the IBA, the city plan also anticipates charging for parking at Balboa Park at special events throughout the year, something done now only during the December Nights festival. Failure to get support for that part of the proposal would reduce projected annual parking income by an additional $210,000.

Gerry Braun, the main spokesman for the mayor's office on the project, said all of the projections are based on assumptions.

"Ours rely on conservative assumptions made and verified by industry professionals,'' Braun said. "They will be happy to address the IBA's issues on Monday.''

Opponents of the plan are mainly against construction of a bridge that would carry traffic away from the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California, but they have also cited concerns over the risk to the city's general fund, should parking revenues not keep pace with construction bond repayment obligations.

The City Council is scheduled to meet on the Plaza de Panama plan on Monday afternoon.

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