Concern For Our Crown Jewel

In 2006, a number of community leaders and government officials grew distressed that Balboa Park, the crown jewel in San Diego’s park system and a global tourism destination drawing millions of visitors annually, was not fully meeting visitor expectations. There was a growing backlog of deferred repairs and an ongoing challenge to provide critical daily maintenance—all of which alarmed local park enthusiasts. It was clear that city resources alone, especially in the midst of a major recession, were not enough to care for our park.

At the request of then Mayor Jerry Sanders and with the leadership of Third District Councilmember Toni Atkins, a committee was formed to address the best way to preserve the Park for the enjoyment of future generations. The “Balboa Park Committee” was comprised of representatives from several local foundations, Park & Recreation staff from the City of San Diego, and members of key Balboa Park stakeholder groups.

Research & Discovery

Conversations with city officials led to the completion of two studies by the Trust for Public Lands. The first study, by The Legler Benbough Foundation, reviewed best governance and management practices for large urban parks similar to Balboa Park in the United States. The second study was commissioned by The Legler Benbough Foundation, The Parker Foundation, and The San Diego Foundation. This study was specific to conditions in Balboa Park and included information on park usage, examples of capital and maintenance needs, and management and funding options.

In March 2008, then Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilmember Toni Atkins tasked the City’s Balboa Park Committee with examining the future of Balboa Park by answering the following questions:

  • What is the city’s ability to provide the necessary financial support for Balboa Park in the future?
  • Even if the city can tackle the challenge on its own, should it?
  • Should management and governance be expanded; and, if so, how?

A Task Force is Formed

After a series of public meetings gathering public input the Balboa Park Committee prepared and released its report (December 2008) recommending that the City of San Diego further study and consider the formation of a new public benefit nonprofit entity to assist the city with governance, fundraising, and management of Balboa Park.

The Balboa Park Committee also recommended that the Mayor and City Council support a second phase of this effort by creating a working group, the “Balboa Park Task Force,” to expand public participation in the discussion and decision-making process and further refine the Balboa Park Committee recommendations. In October 2009 Mayor Sanders working with District Three Councilmember Todd Gloria appointed the Task Force.  

In April 2010, after a series of public meetings, the Task Force issued its report to the Mayor and City Council (The Future of Balboa Park: Keeping Balboa Park Magnificent in its Second Century) recommending the formation of an organizing committee to form a new nonprofit entity.  The Task Force report further delineated the tasks to be undertaken to establish the new entity and identified the anticipated roles and responsibilities of the City and the new entity with respect to the Park.  In September 2010 the Mayor appointed the members of the organizing committee.

The Beginning of a Public-Private Partnership: Balboa Park Conservancy

In April 2011 the Balboa Park Conservancy was officially formed as a private public-benefit 501(c)3 nonprofit organization for the purpose of raising funds, developing public-private partnerships, and collaborating with Balboa Park stakeholders to identify and implement projects to address sustainability and accessibility needs for all of Balboa Park. Approximately three years later, on July 1, 2014, the Balboa Park Conservancy and Balboa Park Central* legally merged into a single organization, operating under the name “Balboa Park Conservancy.”

Moving forward, the Balboa Park Conservancy is focused on achieving its goals of sustainability, enhanced accessibility, and maximizing the Park’s potential through raising funds and advocacy to implement projects throughout Balboa Park, and through park-wide initiatives that improve the visitor experience.

*Balboa Park Central: A Brief History

Originally formed in 1923 as a natural outgrowth of the original Women’s Planning Committee for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, Balboa Park Central has served the Park for over nearly a century. In 1937, the organization was asked by the City of San Diego to oversee the operation and maintenance of the House of Hospitality, built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. For many years, Balboa Park Central, a private public-benefit 501(c)3, managed the House of Hospitality, promoted cultural and recreational use of Balboa Park and was the primary resource for information about the Park through the Balboa Park Visitors Center, Balboa Park Marketing, and the Balboa Park website (www.balboapark.org).

For almost a century, Balboa Park Central and its programs provided a valuable service to the city, the park institutions, the San Diego community, and visitors from around the world. Further, it had been responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the National Historic Landmark House of Hospitality building. All of these functions are continued under the aegis of the merged organizations.