Balboa Park Centennial Planning Group Disbands
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, the troubled Balboa Park celebration committee decided to give up the ghost yesterday. The nonprofit had been tasked with putting on a year-long centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama California exposition in Balboa Park. The organizing committee transferred the responsibility of putting on a centennial event to the San Diego City Council. But the transition leaves many questions unanswered including what kind of big celebratory event can be put together in less than a year? And where did the millions already spent on the project actually go? Earlier today I spoke with Gerry Braun, former Communications Director for the now disbanded Balboa Park Committee. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gerry, the Balboa Park Celebration Committee was a nonprofit group assembled to put on as you put it one time, “a magical time for all of San Diego.” That was during the 2015 Centennial event. Why did the board decided to pull the plug. GERRY BRAUN: Thank you first of all for having me at the KPBS studio, it’s exciting to be here. Let me give you a history of the event that I think will answer your question if it doesn't please just jump right in and interrupt me. Balboa Park Celebration Inc. was a nonprofit and under the contract with the city, they were asked to put on an event that was suppose to be a year-long event it was supposed to have global significance and supposed to boost the entire regions economy and also supposed to fill our hotels with hundreds of thousands of visitors, heads and beds as they say in the business. That was the contractual obligation BBCI had to the city and later the contractual obligation it had to the San Diego tourism and marketing district so we had a very high, lofty goals and as we developed our plan for delivering on those goals to the citizens of San Diego, we went out naturally into the corporate community to find out who would pay for this because we had to develop a plan for an event that was going to run about $30 million, and as you recall we had a different Mayor in office at the beginning of 2013 and he actually even had a higher ambitions for us and so we were having our consultants and our creative designers come up with plans that were even greater than $30 million based on that Mayor’s vision and has promise to deliver a lot of money to us. What we found was, after we developed the designs and the plan and took them out into the community there was just simply not much appetite in the corporate community for this year long event. I don't think they saw value in it. For money that would justify large expenditures and it was something that we could not have found out, couldn’t have understood until we developed the plans and went out and tried to sell them and so at that point we began to face the reality of it. And we realize that we would not get any money from the corporate community to try to adjust our plans downward, which made it increasingly difficult to get corporate funds. The advice was always to make it smaller and smaller that made it less attractive unfortunately to funders and we were constantly in a mode of revising our plans downward and try to find corporate money that would come in and help us out. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When did you collectively at the committee get the idea that this was not going to be the grand vision that it was originally proposed to be? When did you start getting this feedback from corporations that there was not this kind of interest? When did that start to happen? GERRY BRAUN: We hit the ground in the corporate community well we tried to start raising money at the beginning of the summer and unfortunately the city was going through a rather traumatic period. And a lot of people were not interested in participating in funding something that had the Mayor in office at the time, the titular head of the celebration something that would be spotlighting him, and after he resigned we reengage with the corporate community and by then we had got enough tepid response to realize that this was just not working, essentially we put together a plan that the corporate community did not see as valuable, for their marketing dollars, and marketing contributions or sponsorship money and marking money for things like this is down throughout the country, I was talking with someone who said it was down 25 to 30% and so what we encounter was not unusual. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the Balboa Park celebration nonprofit was put together I believe around 2011 and you say that you just started soliciting corporate partnerships last summer? GERRY BRAUN: Yes. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is that? GERRY BRAUN: Well, you cannot solicit corporate sponsorships without having plans and detailed plans, one of the first responses we got from a lot of people was that we want more detail, with more specificity and we're creating a year-long celebration in Balboa Park. Dealing with the infrastructure in Balboa Park and with the planning constraints and things of that nature is a very complex process and it is costly, people who do that sort of work don't give away their services, and so at each stage we would learn from these potential corporate donors what additional work they wanted us to do. And so, we had to do a lot of work up front and we found out that everybody wanted to tweak the event in a way that helped benefit them the most and it was an event that they wanted to participate in MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the fact that you felt that former Mayor Bob Filner with his grander vision of this Centennial for Balboa Park, sort of got into the works in sort of impeded the forward movement of the committee, I'm wondering though did you also get the feeling from the committee itself and from the organizing group that they themselves had a clear vision of what it is they wanted to see for the celebration in Balboa Park? GERRY BRAUN: Well, let me take that in two parts, one is that a lot of people in this community want to blame Bob Filner for a lot of things and he certainly participated in this event and he deserves the share of net notoriety for what he did in his office but the overall challenge that was given to the overall nonprofit through our MOU with the city, whether we could have attained that are not, even with the most supportive Mayor in the world in office is not clear to me right now. As for the second part of your question which is, did the group have clarity and would want to do? I think the fair response to that is that we were asked to reflect and to mirror what the community wanted to do for the celebration, that was our goal, to reach out to the community and to invite them to come into Balboa Park to do things in Balboa Park that would show off the best of San Diego, we were the catalyst we were the vessel that would create a stage for San Diego to get up on that stage and we invited everyone in San Diego to come and to do what they would like to do during the Centennial celebration to tell their story if there were an arts group or corporation or a community group to have the stage and to have a festival plaza and to have a thought leadership forum to talk about things that were important to them and show the world all of the great intellectual and artistic and cultural happenings in San Diego, we found that we get a fair response from some people, but by and large that particular vision of inviting city going to the park to tell their story was not very successful either. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much of a blow to the impetus of this organizing committee which was started by Mayor Jerry Sanders in 2011, how much of that was thwarted by the city Council and the judge's ruling that major idea to reconstruct the park, Irwin Jacobs ramp or all of the construction, it went by the boards because it was ruled that it was not consistent with the musical municipal Code, did that really affect the way that this organizing committee for? GERRY BRAUN: Yes it, it did, just because the city Council was very supportive of the Plaza de Panama project that Irwin Jacobs brought to the city in his philanthropy and his generosity and all the time and effort he put into that, the city Council embrased that overwhelmingly, there was only one negative vote when it went to the city council and that project which would've been built in time for 2015 would've been a tremendous asset for the celebration and all likelihood would of given us a different start and made the park much more exciting and appealing and would've given us 6.3 acres of pedestrian friendly plazas and parkland and don't exist now, that is so important because Balboa Park, everyone loves Balboa Park. The phrases is that we love it to death. There is no square foot in Balboa Park that doesn’t have a constituency that is being used year-round and whatever we wanted to do in Balboa Park necessarily meant that somebody else but might not be of do what they wanted to do, that created a lot of tension and friction sometimes in the park and people wanted understand how their event was going to be affected, how their successful nonprofit fundraiser in the park, or their event or their charity run and what impact we would have on that and had we had 6 new acres to deal with that we could of control that had no groups grandfathered into it and no expectation of how it is going to be used based, that would been of tremendous aspect and as a group we confered naturally and BBCI said correctly that we have to proceed with the part that we have. So we continued to do develop plans with the part that we have. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Limited about money with you Gerry, the reports are that $2.8 million was given to the Centennial group for planning, in which the monies left? GERRY BRAUN: Let me tell you what I'm doing, as transition director. Your listeners will probably be interested to know that on Friday my last day as communication director for Balboa Park celebration I presented the committee with the transition plan where on conversations with the city that it been going on for several months they wanted to go out of business and the city was ready to take back the celebration. as part of that plan, we're going to be transferring to the city all of our documents and intellectual property that will include all of our financial reports, contracts, invoices, copies of checks, financial statements, additionally as the Director I have asked our accountants to prepare some documents that answer a lot of the questions that people have and try to make them as user-friendly of format as possible, I am not an accountant by profession and there is a reason that I'm not an accountant by profession but I think that the public deserves to have documents that they understand that they don't have to have interpreted for them and our accountants are working on that right now I think it will be held answer all of those questions. I want to answer them only once and with the right numbers and our accounting firm is terrific and they are working expeditiously to make sure that that information is available. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why is the and there been no account ability and how the money has been spent up until now? GERRY BRAUN: That is not true, we've posted on her website all of the forms required by law and every year we go through an audit and put that up there, and so we are nonprofit just the KPBS is a nonprofit and we are past practice for the board of directors was disclose if I were to call up KPBS and ask for your budget for this month I'm sure that you would respond by saying we don't have to release that, we now have a new position and now that I'm transition director we're going to be releasing all of that information and we're going to the public as soon as we pull it together and put it out in the correct form. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You say that there were signs and signals during the last few months of their was no appetite in the corporate world to respond with that type of partnerships that Balboa Park celebration committee was looking for, this was sort of the writing on the wall sort of so speak. If the organizing committee was running into trouble, why did it request an additional $3.2 million from the tourism marketing district as recently as January? GERRY BRAUN: I'm not sure I understand your question actually. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If the writing was on the wall and the organizing committee will knew that they're running into problems in securing the kind of corporate donations and partnerships they were looking for, why then did the committee request an additional $3.2 million from the tour is a marketing district as recently as January? GERRY BRAUN: That is a great question, there are a couple ways to answer that one is that the we were working closely with the leadership of the tourism marketing district they were aware of where we were at. This is a normal application process and they make very clear to us that they wanted additional information on our fundraising and we have had several meetings with them in which we have gone over our application and our needs and they were fully aware. The application that we presented them I think represented a point in time that the application was actually prepared last October and all of our direction from everyone in the city was always to keep hope alive and keep up and plugging away and there was a strong belief that we would be up to read raise this money and it represented the ambitions of the group when we began putting that application together really last fall. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But it was declined by the tourism marketing district? GERRY BRAUN: Now we have never had a hearing on it and we have been working with them on that process but we have never actually presented that, their process is that you submit a application that they can consider and then they had a essentially a public hearing that they've and having over the last several Fridays and I think they've had ten or eleven applicants come in asked questions at that time to present additional information by mutual agreement we have not come in and presented and I think there has been excellent communication between our board of board of directors and between the leadership of the marketing district as to where we are. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People read the salaries that have been made public, the former CEO was earning 15,000 a month and you were earning $8000 a month and there are little bit of out outrage over the groups less of success with the salaries had a justify that? GERRY BRAUN: Salaries are not based on unforeseen outcomes they are based on the skill sets of the people in the market for those types of skills, and so that is essentially how salaries are set. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, the larger question is do San Diegans have a right to be disappointed with this whole effort? With this committee? GERRY BRAUN: Of course they do, we're all disappointed there is no group more disappointed than my board of directions directors and there are some people in my board that have put in hundreds of hours and my board chairs have expended thousands of dollars out of their own pockets, they’re volunteers people have been working on this for three years as volunteers working very hard they’re very disappointed with this outcome and I think everyone is disappointed with this outcome and we're all disappointed but however I want to say that we are very hopeful that Mayor Faulconer and council President Gloria will help to turn this around and channel energies to make this succeed in making it still can and will succeed. We're doing everything we can to help the Mayor and I would ask everyone in San Diego to support and do the same. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The question, you are the transition director providing documents to the city Council and help them move forward, but it really has to step up the pace now, we're less than a year away from this event. GERRY BRAUN: You mean the pace of planning for the event? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, what is your next step. GERRY BRAUN: Are step is to help the city in every way possible we're giving them all of our information we have had transition meetings going on for some time now and to make sure that they're getting over information. The new mayor is going to announce his plan shortly, I don't want to step on his announcement anyway. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Gerry Braun, thank you very much for your time today. That was Gerry Braun, former spokesman for Balboa Park Celebration Incorporated, now its transition director. [ [ END AUDIO FILE ] ] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Todd Gloria commented to KPBS on the decision to disband the committee and he was asked whether the committee should have pulled the plug sooner. [ [ AUDIO FILE PLAYING ] ] TODD GLORIA: That may be true, I think all of us were trying to recover, to take stock of the situation to figure out what was achievable, I have been for the last six months been meeting with a number of potential sponsors a none of whom were compelled by the committee had created and as such the sponsorships did not come in. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria in a comment to KPBS.
Balboa Park's 2015 Centennial Celebration board of directors voted Tuesday to disband and transfer all organizing authority to the city of San Diego.
"This decision was the result of long and careful consideration of the obligations spelled out in the BPCI Memorandum of Understanding with the City of San Diego and, most importantly, our responsibility to the people of San Diego," organizers stated on the Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. web site.
The original vision of the event was a "year-long celebration of global significance that would boost the regional economy and generate hundreds of thousands of room nights in local hotels," according to the web site.
But the group determined it would cost tens of millions of dollars, and donations and funding fell short.
The announcement comes on the heels of a U-T San Diego report that organizers missed deadlines, pushed aside groups that wanted to be involved and exaggerated over funding and partnerships.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he will work with Council President Todd Gloria, whose district includes Balboa Park, on a more realistic celebration that recognizes the character and history of the park.
"This new celebration would focus on the existing cultural institutions within the park," said Faulconer in a released statement.
Gloria also offered support for bringing the 2015 Centennial planning back to the city.
"The board’s move today demonstrates its desire to do what is best for Balboa Park, and the city of San Diego will use BPCI’s efforts as a base of what may be possible to commemorate the 2015 centennial of the Panama-California Exposition,” said Gloria.
Faulconer and Gloria said they plan to provide more details on their plans in the coming weeks.