Bursting With Enthusiasm

Photos Courtesy Of San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department

Fountains erupted at the new Waterfront Park as the county of San Diego celebrated one of the largest grand-opening events in its history. on May 10.

In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the County Administration Center (CAC), an event that drew a crowd of more than 25,000 people. For decades the building was surrounded by asphalt parking lots and a small office building. No recreational opportunities for the community were provided.

With the building situated next to San Diego Bay, the County Board of Supervisors recognized the site had the potential to be developed as an iconic park that would attract visitors from throughout the region. Following demolition of an old health building and the parking lots surrounding the CAC, in September 2012 construction began on an underground parking structure and an above-ground park. The nearly $50-million project was completed 19 months later on time and within budget.

A highlight of the resulting 12-acre park overlooking the Bay is a sparkling 830-foot-long fountain that runs nearly the length of the property. The fountain features jets that shoot water 14 feet in the air into a shallow splash area for children. The fountains recirculate 80,000 gallons of water, making it a haven for families seeking a spot to cool down and have fun, all while conserving water in a drought-impacted state.

A Day To Remember

The goal of the grand-opening event was to create a day that children would remember 50 years later, sharing their memories with their children and grandchildren. With about 4 months to get ready, county parks organized a team to develop a plan for the event.

With no allocated funding, the county secured private sponsorships that exceeded the event’s $125,000 production cost. “The generous support of the business community in helping us introduce county residents to their new waterfront park was just one more indication of the collaborative nature of this entire project,” says Supervisor Ron Roberts, who began championing the idea nearly 15 years ago. “We have created something delightfully unique for locals and visitors alike.”

For the thousands who arrived early for the opening ceremony, fireworks boomed on cue, and fountains of water soared, while invited dignitaries and hundreds of children cut a 1,600 foot-long ceremonial ribbon that spanned the new park.

The event included attractions for families and children of all ages, including an interactive sports and youth area with representatives present from the San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres, San Diego State University, and San Diego Sockers. Inflatable structures, a rock-climbing wall, and other popular activities were provided, encouraging kids to challenge themselves physically and stay active.

The park event spilled over to an adjacent street with the inclusion of a farmers market, a classic-car show, a display of emergency vehicles and construction equipment, and a food-truck pavilion.

A state-of-the-art playground was a magnet attracting hundreds of kids to the newly installed equipment where they could also participate in environmental-education activities that lined the grassy area. With Mother’s Day that Sunday, a photo booth was set up so kids could dress up and take a free photo to give to Mom.

Multi-cultural entertainers and musical groups performed on two stages throughout the day, local artists set up around the park’s center, and guests sipped on craft beer and wine from local brewers and vintners in a beer garden.

“This park will become an iconic civic gathering spot for all San Diegans to enjoy,” says County Supervisor Greg Cox.

Gatherings On The Green

The park features 19 reservable areas, including an expansive civic green space that provides six large open-event lawns suitable for thousands of guests. With all of this space, the county parks have stepped up their efforts to market and sell the spaces. “Now that people know we are here, we have to get to know our neighbors and fellow businesses to break the ice for future event-planning in the park,” says District Manager Christine Lafontant.

The San Diego County Parks Department is focusing on targeting the local market to increase park usage and drive revenue streams. The strategy to pull in large-scale events is two-fold. County parks want to target private events, such as weddings and birthday parties, as well as corporate events, such as chamber mixers and community festivals.  “We have a space that was desperately needed in the downtown area,” Lafontant says. “Because we are filling a void, the interest for the location has been very high since its opening.” The goal is to develop strong partnerships with the downtown community to boost revenue potential.

In addition, the department recognizes that San Diego is a prime national and international destination for large conventions and trade shows. To build relationships with that business segment, the department has joined several professional organizations, such as the International Special Events Society, Meeting Planners International, and the San Diego Tourism Authority.

The task is a large one for Lafontant’s four-person crew. “Our objective is to divide and conquer,” she says. “We are developing strong partnerships by becoming members of professional organizations and getting involved with groups we have never worked with before—we are growing.”

“With this park, we can offer meeting and event planners a fresh and exciting venue with a quintessential San Diego backdrop for them to put their creativity to work,” says Brian Albright, Director of the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department.

A Premium For Parking

Early hurdles since the opening include a frequent mid-day excessive parking demand. The property features a 251-space underground garage that offers up to 3 hours of free parking during business hours for visitors during the week. A private operator sells these spaces after 5 p.m. and on weekends at rates that vary depending on demand. Metered parking nearby is available but these spaces can also fill quickly. A parking structure that will open in summer 2015 is expected to help alleviate demand, as will cooler weather and the resumption of school in the fall.

Until the structure is completed, parking will continue to be a challenge for park visitors, but it shows no signs of stopping them from coming down to enjoy the new San Diego County Waterfront Park.

Shannon Singler is the Marketing & Public Outreach Manager for the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department in California. Reach her at (858) 966-1331, or shannon.singler@sdcounty.ca.gov .