In May, the County of San Diego celebrated one of the largest grand opening events in its history as fountains exploded with water at the new Waterfront Park, constructed on the site of the County Administration Center (CAC). In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the CAC during a memorable 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 that provided no recreational opportunities for the community.
The County Board of Supervisors recognized the site had the potential to be developed as an iconic park that could attract visitors from throughout the region, especially given its proximity to the San Diego Bay. Following demolition of an old building and the parking lots surrounding the CAC, construction began on an underground parking structure and an above-ground park in September 2012. The almost $50 million project was completed 19 months later on time and within budget.
A highlight of the resulting 12-acre park overlooking San Diego Bay is a sparkling 830-foot-long fountain that runs almost the entire length of the property. The fountain features jets that shoot water 14 feet in the air into a very shallow splash area for children. The fountains recirculate 80,000 gallons of water, making them a haven for families seeking a spot to cool down and have fun, all while conserving water in a drought-impacted state.
The vision of the grand opening event was to create a day that children could attend and remember 50 years later, sharing their memories with their children and grandchildren. With about four months to get ready, San Diego County Parks and Recreation (SDCPR) organized a team to develop a plan for an event that, like the dedication of the CAC, would be remembered for years to come.
With no allocated funding, county staff secured private sponsorships that exceeded the event’s $125,000 production cost. The resulting financial contributions of the business community paid for a day of public celebration.
“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 some 15 years ago. “We have created something delightfully unique for locals and visitors alike.”
Turnout for the grand opening day was strong. 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 from the San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres, San Diego State University and San Diego Sockers.
“This park will become an iconic civic gathering spot for all San Diegans to enjoy,” County Supervisor Greg Cox observed.
The park features 19 reservable areas including an expansive civic green space that provides six large open event lawns suitable for thousands of guests. The park is designed to accommodate a variety of planned events, from large concerts and festivals to smaller weddings, corporate events and birthday parties.
San Diego County Parks officials plan to target the local market to increase park usage and drive revenue streams. The strategy to pull in large-scale events is two-fold: 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,” says District Manager Christine Lafontant. “Because we are filling a void, the interest for the location has been very high since its opening.”
In addition, the SDCPRD recognizes San Diego is a prime national and international destination for large conventions and trade shows. To build relationships in that business segment, the department has become a member of 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 County Parks and Recreation Department.
Early hurdles since the opening include excessive parking demand mid-day. The property features a 251-space underground garage that offers up to three hours of free parking during business hours for visitors during the week. 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 and Public Outreach Manager for the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department.