San Diego Business Journal

The Party Is Over for Balboa Park Centennial Group as It Votes to Disband

By Mike Allen Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the nonprofit organization formed to put on a year-long series of events to commemorate the 1915 Panama California Exposition, voted to disband and cede all its authority to the city of San Diego.

Formed in 2011, the group has been reeling in recent weeks in the face of allegations that it was refusing to divulge detailed financial reports on its operations, and the resignation last month of its third chief executive.

Ben and Nikki Clay, BPCI’s co-chairs, said in a statement that the decision was “the result of long and careful consideration of the obligations spelled out in the BPCI memorandum of understanding with the city of San Diego.”

“The city is ready to take back this authority. All involved believe this action is in the best interests of the Centennial Celebration and Balboa Park,” the statement said.

BPCI has not replaced Julie Dubick, the last CEO to leave the organization — taking a job with Gafcon Inc. — and efforts to obtain further comment from the Clays were not successful.

In a recent interview before the decision to disband, Ben Clay said the group was unable to secure anticipated sponsorships from corporate partners and wealthy donors to underwrite the bulk of its budget.

Originally, the group was trying to raise about $22 million for a varied series of celebrations. But without securing sponsors, the group whittled the budget down to about $2 million.

“Everybody had grand ideas but if nobody funds it, we’re not doing it,” Clay said.

In recent months, the group has refused to divulge all its financial reports, saying it is not a part of the city government and not covered by the state’s open meetings law.

According to BPCI’s audited financial statement posted on its website, for the 2013 fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, it reported revenue of $1.2 million, and had net assets of $400,000.

Clay said the group obtained seed funding of about $1 million from the city, the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, and six foundations. The SDTMD withheld a $2 million contribution earlier this year based on the group’s failure to meet specific thresholds.

According to the memorandum of understanding, the BPCI was supposed to provide a master calendar and venue plan to the city by Jan. 1, 2014.

Gerry Braun, BPCI’s contracted spokesman, said that calendar was provided late because the venues kept changing. He said the vote to disband and relinquish control of the celebration was unanimous with one abstention.

The decision to do so was prompted by city staffers and with the agreement City Councilman Todd Gloria and new Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The celebration is now in the hands of the city’s office of special events.

The group said it plans to release a full accounting of its financials “as soon as it is finalized.”

Mike Allen