Balboa Park centennial organizers flexible on Plaza de Panama pl - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Balboa Park centennial organizers flexible on Plaza de Panama plan

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park will get along just fine, despite a tentative court ruling that could derail plans to remove vehicles from the center of the area, one of the centennial organizers said Wednesday.

While providing an update on the 2015 celebration planning to members of the San Diego City Council's Natural Resources and Culture Committee, Mike McDowell said organizers might have a little less space to work with but will stay flexible.

A San Diego Superior Court judge last week sided with preservationists who sued to stop the park renovation, which would have removed cars from the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California, along with construction of a bridge to divert traffic to a new underground parking structure.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Friday, sometime after which he'll affirm or modify his initial decision.

"Our attitude from the very beginning was that we needed to be flexible enough as we moved forward to make sure that, either way, we could take advantage of the result," McDowell told the committee members.

"If we had the Plaza de Panama (plan) happening, to have that additional park space, that additional parking, plan for it and use it -- if it didn't happen, to be able to understand that the park as it is will work just fine for the things we're planning," McDowell said.

He said organizers will locate events throughout the park, not just in the Prado or plaza areas.

"We are unimpacted, in my opinion, by the events relative to Plaza de Panama," McDowell said.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs pushed hard for passage of the Plaza de Panama plan, over the preservationists' objections, in part so it would be completed in time for the yearlong centennial. Opponents mainly object to the proposed bypass bridge on the west side of the park, which they contend would be unsightly and threaten the area's historic status.

Current Mayor Bob Filner, who also didn't like the park renovation plan, said Wednesday in a separate forum that he hoped to restart mediation between supporters and opponents so that they might reach an agreement. However, if the start of construction is delayed much longer, it will still be going on when centennial events begin, he said.

McDowell also told the council members that leaders of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., were planning to tour the park next month and might participate in exhibitions that take place during the centennial. The Smithsonian operates the museums and zoo along the National Mall.

Feelers have also been put out to the government of Panama and the Panama Canal Zone to see if they want to participate. The park was first used as a site for the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition, but according to McDowell, the Central American nation barely participated in the event.

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