Maintaining and enhancing a 1,200-acre urban park to best-in-class levels takes a massive amount of resources. Since becoming the City of San Diego’s private partner to help improve and preserve Balboa Park for present and future generations, the Conservancy has proactively sought funding from a wide range of sources, from individual donors and local partners to private foundations and government agencies.
In 2020, we surpassed $3 million in total grants received, supporting a rich array of projects, including restoring historic buildings and gardens, reforesting and replanting the park’s vast green spaces, activating public plazas with culturally diverse programming, and creating data-driven studies to inform strategic planning efforts.
Many of these grant-worthy projects and funders are highlighted below, but we would be remiss if we did not single out and express our utmost gratitude to our largest ongoing grant supporters: The San Diego Foundation, Legler-Benbough Foundation, Favrot Foundation, County of San Diego, and City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.
One of the very first grants the Conservancy received came with great fanfare when the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant was announced in the Plaza de Panama in early 2015. The food trucks and free live entertainment accompanying the press conference remarks offered a taste of what would evolve into the heart of the Conservancy’s placemaking programs that the HOTC grant kicked off, in partnership with the City of San Diego’s Parks and Recreation Department. Impressed with the progress of our placemaking initiatives, the Southwest Airlines HOTC grant program later funded a visioning workshop in 2018 to help expand park activation. The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, Kiwanis Club of San Diego, and California Coast Credit Union, along with too many in-kind supporters and media partners to name here, has made the success and continued expansion of these free community programs possible.
Advancing one of the organization’s core mission priorities, the Conservancy received a huge boost when a major state grant from CAL FIRE funded the planting of more than 600 new trees throughout the park. The result of a complex application process, the $378,000 state award was matched in kind by Parks and Rec. This large-scale reforestation project was informed by a comprehensive tree inventory of the park funded by the Favrot Foundation. We are also grateful to SDG&E’s continued support of our ongoing reforestation and climate appropriate planting goals via their Environmental Champions awards.
Investing in our infrastructure and increasing our capacity to advance projects, programs, and fundraising have been the focus of another grant initiative. With the support of the Parker Foundation, we were able to establish the position of Director of Planning, Design and Programs—securing Jacqueline Higgins, PLA, ASLA, and an experienced professional, to manage all of our park-improvement projects and coordinate our work with the city and other project partners.
Conservancy volunteers not only provide essential services in our Visitors Center, but thanks to grant support, we’ve been able to expand volunteer-powered efforts parkwide. Jewish Family Service has enabled us to receive AmeriCorps VIP Fellow support for volunteer coordination for three years running. Our skilled and dedicated AmeriCorps VIP Fellows have worked hard to build the necessary program infrastructure, and to recruit, onboard, and train volunteers for multiple volunteer initiatives, including the Park Ambassadors and Tree Stewards. And grants received from the Zable Foundation and Dr. Seuss Foundation in just the past few weeks are funding the launch of our new Garden Stewards initiative. Additional grants from San Diego County, The San Diego Foundation, and the Art Pratt Foundation of Old Mission Rotary have provided much-needed supplies and uniforms, and the David C. Copley Foundation funded an electric utility cart.
Progress on capital improvements has accelerated in the past couple of years thanks to grant-funded renovations of the Casa del Prado Building (The Thursday Club and County of San Diego), the Alcazar Garden (Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club, The Favrot Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation), the Rose Garden (The San Diego Foundation), and Nate’s Point Dog Park (Beneful, The San Diego Foundation).
Likewise, thanks to grant support, we are now making significant progress on our number-one priority capital improvement project: the complete restoration of the Botanical Building and Gardens. While an $8.26 million allocation from the state of California, thanks to the support of State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, rightfully stole the spotlight in summer 2019, we also received a $257,668 grant from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program. The federal grant funds the creation of a new Welcome Gallery that will also serve as a visitor hub for all of the park’s gardens.
Last but not least, in the coming year, the visitor experience will be greatly enhanced by a major community-driven overhaul of the Balboa Park’s signage and wayfinding system. With grant support from the Legler Benbough Foundation and The San Diego Foundation, the Conservancy will begin installing brand new state-of-the-art signage in spring 2021.
We are grateful to all of our funders for providing the critical investments needed to help the Conservancy bring Balboa Park to best-in-class.