March 4th, 2014

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March 4, 2014 – Nonprofit was granted $2.8 million to plan, but was not making progress.

Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the nonprofit formed in 2011 to organize a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park in 2015, is closing up shop and returning all responsibility for the events to the city.

The celebration was to mark the centennial of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which attracted millions to San Diego and put the city on the world map.

The decision to disband was reached by a vote of the board of directors Tuesday, hours after U-T Watchdog reported that Balboa Park Celebration refused to release documents related to spending of $2.8 million authorized so far.

The Watchdog had reported starting in January that the group missed key deadlines, brushed off community groups that wanted to be involved, and exaggerated in funding applications about having “key partnerships” that didn’t exist.

“For reasons too varied and complex to enumerate, sponsorships have not materialized and, after discussions with and mutual agreement by the City of San Diego, at its meeting this morning the BPCI Board of Directors voted to return to the City, authority for organizing the 2015 Centennial Celebration in Balboa Park,” board member Patricia McQuarter announced this afternoon. “It is anticipated that the transition process will take place over the next 30 days and BPCI (the corporation) will be dissolved at the end of its fiscal year on July 31,2014.”

The nonprofit was granted unprecedented control over Balboa Park to pull off the centennial party, envisioned as a yearlong series of events with a budget of $50 million or more that was supposed to attract millions of tourists — and their money — to the city.

But the organization has run through three chief executives in two-plus years. It switched promoters in November.

The master calendar for 2015 festivities was due to be submitted Jan. 1 of this year, and showed fewer than 130 days of activities — many of them in Los Angeles or elsewhere with no direct connection to San Diego.

Park volunteers and supporters complained that officials at Balboa Park Celebration rejected ideas for the remembrance and excluded them from planning meetings.

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.

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By Jeff McDonald 3:26 P.M.MARCH 4, 2014