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Judge Clears City's Planned Plaza De Panama Project In Balboa Park

August 14, 2018 1:38 p.m.

Judge Clears City's Planned Plaza De Panama Project In Balboa Park


Peter Comiskey, executive director, Balboa Park Cultural Partnership

Related Story: Judge Clears City's Planned Plaza De Panama Project In Balboa Park


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

. The plan to remove cars from Balboa parks Plaza de Panama has cleared a major hurdle. On Monday the city of San Diego won a lawsuit that challenged the financing plan for the 80 million dollar project. The judge sided with the city over arguments from San Diego and for open government that bonds for the project should have been put to a public vote. Some supporters of the plan described themselves as ecstatic over the outcome and are planning to begin construction early next year. But the other side may still appeal the verdict. Joining me is Peter Comiskey he's executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural partnership. And Peter welcome to the show. Thank you very much. Can you give us a quick reminder about what this plan to reroute cars away from the plaza entails.

I absolutely candidates it's a transformational plan that is really all designed with the guest experience and the Park Improvement in mind as you know Bell ballpark is a huge economic engine for the city but maybe hasn't quite had the investment that it could have or should have had. So this project will do a number of things including improving 100 year old infrastructure including additional parkland for visitors it touches some six point two acres of open space and actually creates brand new two acres of parkland and mostly in addition to the new parking will be created. It reduces pedestrian and vehicle impacts enormously so it's a a major project for the PAC it's a transformational project for the PAC that is going to cause exceptional improvement.

And I think probably what most people remember about this plan is that instead of going into the park on Laurel Street. What what will happen is that cars will be diverted to a ramp and then go into a be diverted to a parking structure that's already there but that will be improved. Is that the idea.

That's correct. So is the compact that exists right behind Spreckels open society. Now that's a surface and ugly surface that will be sunk down for three levels underground and then you'll have beautiful new two point two acres of park on top and that's fed through traffic from both East and the West. So it's a real way to improve that whole park circulation completely remove cars from the central Lysa.

This plan has been in the works for nearly 10 years.

How did it start the project started. I believe him and I wasn't up a cultural partnership at that time but I think always there's been concern about cars in that central plaza to Panama and how they are interacting with guests all the time and I think it was an exceptional collaboration between the organizations within the park with the city with philanthropists and other foundations to really start to address what the park might look like if there was real investment made in improving that experience.

Tell us about the financing plan for this project.

It's public private Hazarat it's a public private partnership. The project itself is a city project. The city will. Will bond the parking structure. And then that's how they will construct that and then the rest of the money will actually be raised and donated to the city from a group called the Plaza de Panama committee.

Now Attorney Corey Briggs for San Diego is for open government was challenging the legality of the bonds which would cover 50 million dollars. Another 30 million is going to be raised privately as you mentioned. Proponents of the project had trouble raising funds because of the ongoing legal challenges to the project.

I think the plaza the Panama committee are very comfortable that those funds can be used and at the point where there is legal certainty now they will now start to look at that fundraising efforts.

OK so Peter yesterday the judge sided with the city and said that the Plaza de Panama plan can move forward. There's some idea that these San Diego for open government will appeal that ruling and meanwhile there's a separate lawsuit against the project filed by Save Our Heritage Organization. The group lost its case but is now appealing the ruling. And they say now they may ask for an injunction for them against the project moving forward. How concerned are you that there are still more roadblocks ahead for this project.

Laurie what I can tell you is it's been six years of delays now and if nothing the resolve of the organizations within the park the collaboration of the partnership the city the division of folk know all of that has just been stronger and stronger every year. I would hope the Construction Commission can begin shortly. However if for whatever reason there are additional appeals are very comfortable that the city's case will prevail.

From what I've heard of the leaders of the museums inside Balboa Park everyone is very much supportive of this project. Why are they so excited about it.

The park itself operates as such a large economic engine for the city. The pockets so full price a both a tourist and a local draw. And because of that the demand on the infrastructure within the park is exceptional. With that you need structure you need organization and you need improvements. That's what this project will deliver this amazing improvement to the park that all of the organizations within the park a fully supportive.

If this does start early next year and construction begins when do you expect it to be completed.

I believe it's about a 2 2 plus year construction phase. However that includes a lot of logistical improvements to plazas and areas that will be done probably in steps. It's not just about Plaza de Panama and that's the most amazing thing. There's the opportunity to improve those hundred year old utilities at the during that same time an opportunity will be taken to change our water main and opportunity will Teigen to change that a gas line. There's so much that's being improved by this project. This is going to put Bell ballpark ahead of the game for years to come.

I've been speaking with Peter Comiskey. He is executive director of the Balboa Park Cultural and partnership. Peter thank you. Thank you very much