By Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press
The Balboa Park Celebration, Inc., a group empowered by former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders to organize a centennial celebration of the Panama-California Exposition, is calling it quits.
Despite having $2.8 million in taxpayer-funded startup monies and a contract giving them exclusive control over the nation’s second oldest urban cultural park, the organization is dissolving its corporate entity and handing back its responsibilities to the City of San Diego.
Centennial organizers have been in the spotlight in recent weeks, amid calls for greater transparency. BPC, Inc steadfastly maintained to the end that they were under no legal obligation to reveal financial information or documents related to their activities. Lawsuits were being prepared, news accounts questioning their activities began appearing on a regular basis, and incoming mayor Kevin Faulconer joined the chorus of public concern.
Boosters for a mega-event originally forecast “a spectacular celebration producing an extraordinary visitor experience. Hopes were high that a year-long event would double park attendance to 20 million and “generate 600,000 hotel room nights, the equivalent of four Comic-Cons, and result in $278 million in direct visitor spending.”
The group went through three executive directors and two big name promoters since the deal was agreed to by the city in 2011. They repeatedly missed deadlines to present progress reports to the City Council.
From UT-San Diego:
In January, city tourism officials put off consideration of a $3.2 million request for additional funding, saying the group had not proved it could be successful pulling off the celebration.
The nonprofit celebration group was run by two former top aides for former Mayor Jerry Sanders. Former Sanders Chief of Staff Julie Dubick received $15,000 a month plus benefits, and former Director of Special Projects Gerry Braun was paid $8,000 a month as a consultant.
The 2015 budget called for boosting their payments to $20,000 and $12,000 a month, respectively. Dubick resigned last month amid the controversy.
From the onset, activities of the Balboa Park Celebration group appeared to be strongly influenced by, if not under the actual control of, the city’s big hoteliers. Civic activist George Mullen, whose attempts to be part of the planning process were ignored, warned via op-eds published at Voice of San Diego that the event planning had been hijacked by a hotelier cabal.
Here’s the conclusion of one of those articles, published (remember the date) on March 19, 2013:
Due to numerous management and board missteps, our 2015 centennial celebration is in real jeopardy, and time may be too short to save it. Mistakes, missteps and setbacks in a “best of intentions” effort is one thing; it’s an entirely different thing when those mistakes, missteps and setbacks are the byproduct of a hidden agenda to serve the special interests of a powerful hotelier cabal.
Outside of the museums (who at least got a hearing and a token donation), the centennial committee became notorious for its indifference to community groups looking to participate in events.
Now that the group has collapsed, the finger pointing has begun. And, as I predicted (with any negative event occurring locally in the near future), the pinata known as former Mayor Bob Filner is taking the hits.
Via 10News, here’s the guy whose cronies were running the show:
Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who is the current CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the recent political climate made it difficult for the group to find sponsors.
And here’s the former iMayor:
“We will have a yearlong celebration,” he said. “It will not be the $100 million dollar extravaganza that Bob Filner envisioned and did no fundraising for.”
Gloria said planning got out of control under Filner’s watch.
And here’s (GOP) City Councilman Scott Sherman:
Sherman also pointed the finger of blame to Filner.
“I think the whole Filner saga … everybody during that whole 10 months, everybody around here, quite frankly, was afraid to do anything,” he said.
The truth about what actually happened with the centennial lies in the files of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. And it’s not likely we’ll be learning anything contrary to the “party line” anytime real soon. After all, it wouldn’t look good if it was revealed that the city’s “job creators” couldn’t get the job done.
According to Fox5:
The group dissolved it’s corporate status and intends to transfer records, intellectual property and financial assets to the city.
This means ultimately this information will be under the purview of…wait for it…. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. I’d be willing to wager we’ll see the classified reports of the CIA on Osama bin Laden’s death long before the centennial documents get made public.