Now that (it appears) plans for construction of a paid parking garage adjacent to the Plaza de Panama are moving forward, the San Diego Zoo has dusted off an eight year old project involving construction of a fee based 4800 space underground garage and will eliminating the free 2500 space surface lot currently in use.
Construction of these two facilities will result in a net total of 9,146 spaces, 5597 of which will cost $5 per four hours of use by automobiles. Preliminary estimates of the cost of this construction are in the $200 million range and proponents of the plan are still studying the means to raise the capital.
The Plaza de Panama plan was put forth by billionaire philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, who offered to foot the bill for some of the costs, with balance being paid for via parking fees applied to bonds purchased by the City of San Diego. The plan was controversial, and opponents are still hoping that a lawsuit can halt construction.
One of the questionable aspects of the Panama plan involved speculation on the City’s part about the actual revenues generated by the 797 stall fee paid parking lot which, after consideration is given for spaces lost in the reconfiguration of traffic, results in a net gain of only 260 slots. The elimination of the free parking at the Zoo (along with other spaces lost in that construction) makes the numbers for the Jacobs garage look much more promising.
San Diegians already subsidize the Zoo to the tune of $8 million annually via a property tax stream. The city collects a minimal rent ($140k) annually. This arrangement exists because boosters believe that the 3.5 million visitors to the facility generate enough economic activity to offset the government subsidy.
The announcement for the latest proposal came via a very carefully controlled roll out with members of the Balboa Park conservancy and the UT-San Diego editorial board being given a ‘first look’ at the revived plan. Today’s newspaper features a front page article putting a positive spin on the Zoo’s parking scheme, stressing an alleged paucity of parking in Balboa Park. It will be very interesting to see if any opposition develops.
Editor: This first appeared as part of Doug Porter’s daily column The Starting Line at San Diego Free Press.