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National Park Service Says Balboa Park Plan Could Risk Historical Designation

An aerial view of the proposed Plaza de Panama project slated to begin this y...

Credit: Joe Cordelle, Animate Digital Studios

Above: An aerial view of the proposed Plaza de Panama project slated to begin this year and be completed by the 2015 Centennial of Balboa Park.

In a letter to the city of San Diego, the National Park Service says plans to alter Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama could put the park’s historical designation at risk.

In a letter to the city of San Diego, the National Park Service says plans to alter Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama could put the park’s historical designation at risk.

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Letter from National Park Service

Letter from National Park Service

Letter from the National Park Service to City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.

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The letter says the plan, which also includes building a parking structure and rerouting traffic through the park, is inconsistent with the standard of treatment for historic properties.

The National Park Service began looking into the project at the request of California’s State Historic Preservation Officer.

That official also said major changes to the park will cause it to lose its Historic Landmark Designation and possibly future funding opportunities.

Qualcomm founder and billionaire philanthropist Irwin Jacobs originally proposed plans to make over Balboa Park for its 2015 centennial celebration. Mayor Jerry Sanders backs the plan.

But a local preservationist group has sued to stop the project. San Diego's Superior Court concurred with the Save Our Heritage Organisation that an agreement the city signed with Jacobs was illegal.

SOHO director Bruce Coons told KPBS in February that the park losing its Historic Landmark status would be a huge blow to tourism and the park's ability to garner federal, state and local grants.

But Mark Johnson, the founder of Civitas, Inc., and the designer for the Plaza de Panama project, said then that he is not worried about losing the park's historic status.

"We think the improvements we are making are a great benefit, on balance and an extremely positive thing for the park that will enhance the historic district," he said.

Full disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major contributor to KPBS.

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