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Plaza de Panama

Plaza de Panama Committee

The Plaza de Panama Committee is a sole purpose entity devoted to the development and implementation of the Plaza de Panama Project. It is separate, but complementary to, the Balboa Park Conservancy and the Balboa Park Centennial Committee. The committee will sunset with completion of the project. It is a 501(c)(3) California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation.

Dr. Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs is a volunteer Director and Chairman of the Committee. He was co-founder, chairman, and CEO of both Linkabit Corporation and Qualcomm, the latter now with about 11,000 employees in San Diego and 18,000 world-wide. Previously, he served on the faculty of UCSD for 6 years and MIT for 7 years. At MIT, he coauthored a textbook "Principles of Communication Engineering". Dr. Jacobs currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Salk Institute and of the National Academy of Engineering and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the IEEE, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Jacobs and his wife Joan are active philanthropists, strongly supporting educational initiatives at High Tech High, La Jolla Country Day, UCSD, Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UCSF, and Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. They support many activities in San Diego including the SD Food Bank, Jewish Family Service, the SD Symphony, the San Diego Opera, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe, the new Central Library, and museums including the Reuben H. Fleet, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Museum of Photographic Arts, Museum of Art, New Children's Museum, Atheneum, and the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Dr. Jacobs has received many awards, including the National Medal of Technology in 1994, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights Dorothy I. Height Chair’s Award in 2004, and honorary degrees from six universities.

Iris Lynn Strauss

Iris Lynn Straus is a volunteer Director and Secretary of the Committee. She is an active community volunteer, philanthropist and fundraiser.

Mrs. Strauss has a strong connection to Balboa Park in that she has recently been appointed by the Mayor of San Diego as a liaison for Arts and Culture and charged with planning the 2015 Balboa Park Centennial. This role also entails assisting with the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (improvements to the San Diego waterfront) and coordinating the proposed remodel of the Civic Center Plaza in Downtown San Diego. As a former Commissioner of Arts and Culture for the City of San Diego, Mrs. Strauss served as chairperson of both the Public Art Committee and the Public Art Master Plan Committee, helping to shape the future of public art in the region. Mrs. Strauss currently serves as a Lifetime Director on the board of the San Diego Opera, where she was formerly the president. In her time with San Diego Opera, Mrs. Strauss worked to increase the patron base and secure many major gifts. Mrs. Strauss and her husband Matthew are also contemporary art collectors and active supporters of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Mrs. Strauss was honored with the 2004 Living Legacy Award by the Women’s International Center.

Donald Cohn

Donald Cohn is a volunteer Director of the Committee. He is a successful real estate businessman, philanthropist and community volunteer.

He currently serves as the chairman of the board for the Old Globe, an internationally known theatre complex located in Balboa Park. The Old Globe produces 16 plays and musicals each year in its three theaters, including the Old Globe main stage, the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Stage and the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. The Old Globe operates on an annual budget of $20.5 million. Mr. Cohn, along with his wife Karen, are benefactors of the new Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center, which is the Old Globe’s first dedicated space for education and outreach programs.

Mr. Cohn established his business career in San Diego in 1961. From that time through 1979, he was active in the development of over 3,000 residential units both as a builder and investor. He founded Data Quick Information Systems in 1980, where he served as CEO and managed its growth to become the largest real estate information provider in the United States until its sale to Acxiom Corporation in 1995. Subsequently, he acted as founder and CEO of DTS Communications until its sale to a New York Stock Exchange firm in 1997. Since that time, he has been an investor in other business ventures and continues to manage his real estate portfolio.

David Cohn

David Cohn is a volunteer Director of the Committee. He is a successful restaurateur who, along with his wife Lesley, owns and operates eleven restaurants in San Diego (all within a three-mile radius of Balboa Park) and a twelfth in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.

Mr. Cohn is an active member of the San Diego community and philanthropist. Mr. Cohn currently serves as a board member of the San Diego State University Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, the California Restaurant Association and the Gaslamp Quarter Association. He also serves as Commissioner of the California Travel and Tourism Commission. Formerly, Mr. Cohn served as the past president of the San Diego Restaurant Association and past Chairman of the Board for the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Mr. Cohn has been recognized for his strong community and restaurant industry support. He has been awarded the Gaslamp Quarter Historic Association’s Vision Award, the San Diego Press Club’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for marketplace ethics. Mr. Cohn has also been honored by the San Diego City Schools for his exemplary support and commitment to partnerships in education.

Tom Gildred

Tom Gildred is a volunteer Director and Treasurer of the Committee. Born and raised in San Diego, Mr. Gildred comes from a family that has been actively involved in the San Diego community for three generations. He is a successful businessman as well as an active community volunteer and philanthropist. In 1995, he founded FMT Consultants, a business management firm specializing in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software implementations for midsize companies. He is the CEO and Chairman of the Board. Mr. Gildred is also the CEO and co-founder of Emerald Textiles, a new commercial laundry service offering textile rentals and textile management solutions for Southern California healthcare providers. He is Director of the Gildred Development Company and Gildred Building Company, which together comprise a privately held real estate development and management company. 

Mr. Gildred's active community involvement includes serving as President of the Board of Trustees for the San Diego Museum of Art. He also serves on the Museum’s Executive, Audit, Finance, and Compensation Committees. Additionally, Mr. Gildred is Chair of the Sharp Healthcare IT Committee, a past member of the Board of Trustees, and currently serves on the Finance, Audit, Growth Planning, Marketing & Communications Committees. He is a founding member of Vistage Group 3080 and has served on the Advisory Committee. He’s also a founding member of the Downtown San Diego Breakfast Rotary Club, a past member of the Board of Directors of the Mission Valley YMCA, a member of the San Diego Software Industry Council and a member of Fairbanks Ranch Country Club where he served on the Finance Committee.

Mr. Gildred holds an accounting degree from San Diego State University.

Peter Ellsworth

Mr. Ellsworth is a volunteer Director of the Committee. Mr. Ellsworth is President of the Legler Benbough Foundation and the Benbough Operating Foundation. The Legler Benbough Foundation makes grants to selected charities. The Benbough Operating Foundation operates a number of programs including Balboa Park Online Collaborative, a web development project for twenty cultural institutions in Balboa Park.

Prior to his position with the Foundation, Mr. Ellsworth served as President and CEO of Sharp Health Care and its affiliated hospitals. His term as CEO saw Sharp grow to a healthcare system operating 5 hospitals and 3 medical groups collectively taking care of approximately a third of all San Diegans. Before joining Sharp, Mr. Ellsworth served as President of Ellsworth, Corbett, Seitman and McLeod, LLC.

In addition to this committee, Mr. Ellsworth is currently serving on the Mayor’s 2015 Balboa Park Committee, and is serving on the advisory committees of The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, San Diego Grantmakers, the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology and LEAD San Diego. Mr. Ellsworth has served on the Board of numerous local and national civic and cultural organizations including The San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Combined Arts of San Diego (President), The Neuroscience Institute, San Diego Grantmakers, San Diego Opera, and San Diego Blood Bank (President). He also served as a member of the Committee on Primary Care of the Institute of Medicine in Washington DC.

Mr. Ellsworth has undergraduate and a JD degree from Stanford University.

Alan Kidd

Al Kidd is a volunteer Director of the Committee. Mr. Kidd is the president of the San Diego Sports Commission and the San Diego Hall of Champions. As president of the San Diego Hall of Champions, Mr. Kidd was an instrumental player in the creation of the Sports Commission through the merger of the San Diego Hall of Champions and the San Diego International Sports Council.

Before joining the San Diego Hall of Champions in 2003, Mr. Kidd was a top-level executive at the global advertising agency of Saatchi and Saatchi. Upon his arrival, the San Diego Hall of Champions was saddled with debt, struggling financially, and suffering from a bad business model. In a short time, Mr. Kidd turned the organization, coordinated the merger, and now oversees an organization that has an annual budget of approximately $2.2 million. Mr. Kidd has also been a leader behind the Sports Commission’s dedicated effort to increase community outreach programs for youths, including the organization of sporting events, clinics and leadership programs.

In his spare time, Mr. Kidd contributes considerable time, effort and resources to his personal foundation, the Paul Serra Sports Foundation, named after a former coach who gave him a boost when he was a youngster.

Jessie Knight, Jr.

Jessie Knight, Jr. is a volunteer Director of the Committee. He is chairman and CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric. Previously, Mr. Knight served as executive vice president of external affairs for Sempra Energy, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) after being appointed by then California Governor Pete Wilson.

Prior to his appointment as CPUC Commissioner, Mr. Knight was employed as executive vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, vice president of marketing for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner newspapers, and director of marketing for the U.S. and Canadian pineapple business of Dole Food Company, Inc. Mr. Knight is also a board member of the Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and the San Diego Padres Baseball Club and serves as a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Mr. Knight holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University was a fellow of the University of Madrid and holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin.

Dene Oliver

Dene Oliver is a volunteer Director of the Committee. He is the founder and chief executive officer of OliverMcMillan, one of the largest commercial development firms headquartered in San Diego. OliverMcMillan has designed, developed and/or managed8,000,000 square feet of office, commercial, industrial, residential, retail, research and development, and mixed-use projects with a total project value in excess of $1.2 billion, and are currently working on projects worth more than $2 billion. Mr. Oliver was born in San Diego, received his undergraduate degree in Real Estate and Urban Land Economics from the University of California at Berkeley and earned his law degree from the University of Southern California School of Law. Mr. Oliver also attended the University of Southern California Graduate School of Business Administration.

Throughout his professional career, Mr. Oliver has been active in both professional and community organizations. He currently chairs the San Diego County 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and has been awarded the Founders Award and the Humanitarian Award by the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Mr. Oliver was appointed by the San Diego City Council to the board of directors of the $200 million San Diego Convention Center, served as president and chairman of the Board of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, and was the founding Chairman of the Expansion Committee of the San Diego Convention Center that completed a $300 million expansion. Mr. Oliver is also a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the Urban Land Institute, and a frequent speaker at various industry-related organizations.

Darlene Shiley

Darlene Shiley is a volunteer Director of the Committee. She is an active community volunteer and philanthropist. Mrs. Shiley is a California State University alumna who believes strongly in giving back to her community.

Currently president of The Shiley Foundation, she has a presence in the major universities in San Diego and beyond. She and her husband, Donald, a pioneer in the medical device field, have made significant leadership gifts to San Diego State University, the University of San Diego (USD), the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Portland. Mrs. Shiley is the current chair of the USD Board, only the second woman to hold that position. She also serves on the Salk Institute Board, the National Alzheimer’s Association Board, the Shiley Eye Center Advisory Board, and Scripps Clinic Advisory Boards. She has served on the City of San Diego’s founding Commission for Arts and Culture, The Board of the Old Globe, the New York-based National Corporate Theatre Fund and the KPBS Community Advisory Board. Mrs. Shiley has a degree in theatre arts from San Jose State University. The Shiley Theatre at USD is named in honor of her and Donald’s endowment of the Master of Fine Arts program.

Mrs. Shiley’s numerous honors include the San Diego Press Club Community Activist Headliners of the Year, the UCSD Distinguished Service Medal, KPBS’ first Woman of the Year Award, Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (now AFP), and the Girl Scouts’ Coolest Woman of the Year. She and her husband were named AFP Philanthropists of the Year, and received USD’s Presidential Honors and the UCSD Chancellor’s Medal for extraordinary contributions to education.

Mike McDowell

Mike McDowell is a volunteer Director of the Committee. He currently is Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Lodging Industry Association, an organization that advocates on behalf of the local lodging and tourism industries.

A California native and San Diegan since 1977, Mr. McDowell has a 30-plus year career in the hospitality industry and a long-standing demonstrated devotion to Balboa Park. He is a Past-President of the Balboa Park Central (formerly the House of Hospitality Association) Board of Directors, and was recently re-appointed as Vice Chairman of the Balboa Park Committee for the City of San Diego. In addition, Mike is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. He serves on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, and in an ex-officio capacity on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. He continues to serve on the Proposition M Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee for the Palomar Community College District and was appointed to the Mayor’s Citizen Taskforce on the Convention Center Project.

Betty Peabody

Betty Peabody is a volunteer Director of the Committee. For more than nearly 40 years, Betty Peabody has played an active role in the success of Balboa Park. A founding member of the Balboa Park Millennium Society, she also served on the board of directors for Exposition 2000 - A Millennium Celebration in Balboa Park and was a co-founder of both the Friends of Balboa Park and the Balboa Park Alliance. For eight years, she was a member of the board of directors of the San Diego Museum of Man, and she has been a member of the Central Balboa Park Association since its inception. She has served as president of the Klee Wyk Society of the Museum of Man, Caridad International and the House of Hospitality. She chaired the House of Hospitality’s grand re-opening in 1997 and received the organization’s lifetime membership award. She was also the 2001 Rotary District Conference/Balboa Park liaison.

Mrs. Peabody has also been a distinguished civic leader in other San Diego organizations serving on the board of San Diego County CrimeStoppers, chairing Caridad International and the Mercy Hospital Ball, and co-founding Point Loma Acts Now (P.L.A.N). Author of “Women Physicians in Early San Diego,” Mrs. Peabody has traveled extensively with her physician husband, Homer.

Mrs. Peabody is the recipient of numerous awards including: Woman of Dedication; The San Diego Crime Commission “Blue Knight award”; San Diego Crime Stoppers “Lifetime Achievement Award”; the City of San Diego District 3 “Community Spirit” award; and the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Recognition award.

Plaza de Panama Public Dialog/Agency Letters

Letters in Support

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce (July 18, 2011)

Centro Cultural de la Raza (July 12, 2011)

San Diego History Center (May 2, 2011)

Hornblower Cruises and Events (April 21, 2011)

Courtyard by Marriott - Old Town (April 21, 2011)

San Diego Zoo (April 18, 2011)

San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (April 15, 2011)

Hacienda Hotel Old Town (April 7, 2011)

The Grand Del Mar (April 6, 2011)

Manchester Grand Hyatt (April 5, 2011)

Del Mar Fairgrounds/Racetrack (April 4, 2011)

Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines (April 4, 2011)

Sheraton San Diego (April 4, 2011)

Trigild, Inc. (April 4, 2011)

San Diego Hilton Mission Valley (April 1, 2011)

Humphreys by the Bay (April 1, 2011)

Prime Time Shuttle (April 1, 2011)

PRA Destination Management (April 1, 2011)

San Diego Hotel-Motel Association (March 31, 2011)

Sea World San Diego (March 30, 2011)

Timken Museum of Art (March 11, 2011)

Mingei International Museum Board (Feb. 28, 2011)

Banker's Hill/Park West Community Association (Feb. 10, 2011)

Mingei International Museum (Jan. 29, 2011)

San Diego Museum of Man (Jan. 27, 2011)

2015 Steering Committee (Jan. 26, 2011)

San Diego Air & Space Museum (Jan. 23, 2011)

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (Jan. 14, 2011)

Museum of Photographic Arts (Jan. 12, 2011)

San Diego Natural History Museum (Jan. 11, 2011)

Mathieu Gregoire (Jan. 10, 2011)

Balboa Park Central (Dec. 1, 2010)

Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (Sep 22, 2010)


Letters in Opposition

North Park Historical Society (May 2, 2011)

Eyton Shalom (April 28, 2011)

Rosemary Reed (April 14, 2011)

San Diego Archers (April 13, 2011)

Louise Russell (April 5, 2011)

Samantha Ollinger (April 5, 2011)

Elizabeth & John Weems (April 4, 2011)

Bjorn Palenius (April 4, 2011)

Mission Hills Heritage (Feb. 24, 2011)

The Committee of One Hundred (Feb. 4, 2011)

Hillcrest History Guild (Jan. 31, 2011)

Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition (Jan. 23, 2011)

La Playa Heritage (Jan. 17, 2011)

Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (Jan. 21, 2011)

San Diego Council of Design Professionals (Oct. 21, 2010)


Public Dialogue/Agency Letters

Letter from State Historic Preservation Officer to City of San Diego (Feb. 11, 2011)


Dr. Irwin Jacobs to Save Our Heritage Organisation (Dec. 31, 2010)

Save Our Heritage Organisation to Mayor Jerry Sanders and Dr. Irwin Jacobs (Dec. 20, 2010)


Dr. Irwin Jacobs to San Diego Zoo (Dec. 21, 2010)

San Diego Zoo to Mayor Jerry Sanders and Dr. Irwin Jacobs (Dec. 16, 2010)


Plaza de Panama Design Team

KCM Group

KCM Group is a full-service construction management and consulting firm based in San Diego with expertise in the engineering and architectural aspects of both private and commercial real estate development. KCM Group actively participates in its projects from the owner’s perspective while applying technically based management strategies throughout design and construction. KCM Group is not a design firm, nor a contractor, it is a professional construction management and consulting firm whose interests and performance are defined by the owner’s objectives. KCM Group’s pre-construction services include: design management and coordination review; entitlement and agency processing management; coordination of specialty consultant and contractor selection; project scheduling; construction estimating; budget development and constructability review; and value engineering. Construction phase services include: bid management; contract development and administration; owner/vendor/consultant coordination; project accounting; budget and schedule monitoring; and closeout services.

Rick Engineering Company

Rick Engineering Company (REC) is an award winning, multi-disciplined planning, design and engineering firm with offices throughout California and Arizona. Founded in 1955, REC offers a diverse range of services that focus on urban design and planning, landscape architecture, transportation engineering, surveying, mapping, aerial photogrammetry and specialized computer services. REC has completed thousands of projects and each year prepares designs for millions of dollars worth of construction. With clients from both the public and private sectors, REC has experience working with city, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit institutions.

Civitas Inc.

Founded in 1983, Civitas Inc. is a creative collaborative of landscape architects and urban designers based in Denver and New York City, that specializes in strategic design and planning for complex urban sites. Significant projects include Stapleton Airport Redevelopment in Denver, North Side (Pruitt-Igoe) in downtown St. Louis, the North Embarcadero waterfront in San Diego, the Los Angeles River Revitalization, and Museum Park Miami.

Heritage Architecture & Planning

In 1978, when Milford Wayne Donaldson laid the foundation for Heritage Architecture & Planning, it was in an environment that pitted progress against preservation. Since then we have all come to appreciate our past and Heritage has been committed to preserving cultural resources and the built environment. Heritage approaches every project with the understanding that each resource has a distinct identity with its own challenges. It is our appreciation of each resource’s singular value that allows Heritage to collaborate with owners and communities to help protect their unique historic resources. Whether the work includes research, consultation, rehabilitation, or design, Heritage has dedicated itself to ensuring that the resources of our shared past remain as part of our collective future.

Innovative Design Group

Innovative Design Group (IDG) is an architectural and engineering firm specializing in the design of cost effective, functional, and aesthetically pleasing parking facilities. Established in 1993, IDG provides complete architectural planning and design of site and structured parking, for all types of commercial, retail, institutional, transportation and healthcare projects. Located in Irvine, California, IDG handles a vast array of projects nationwide, but maintains its focus in Southern California. Some of IDG’s projects include parking structures for the Providence Centre in Fullerton, California, the Howard Hughes Center in Aurora, California, the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and a $10.9 million structure at the University of San Diego.

MJE Marketing Services

MJE Marketing is a full-service, national award-winning marketing, advertising, public relations and public affairs agency whose commitment to quality is absolute – top to bottom line. Established in 1994, we consider ourselves to be creative, connected and always curious about what makes people do what they do. And that translates into effective campaigns that demonstrate ROI whether the focus is on selling a product, managing a sensitive public issue or coming up with the key call-to-action to attract thousands of people…to the next “big” thing. Before any program, project or campaign is launched, MJE executives work closely with our clients to determine the exact needs and situation. Comprehensive baseline research is developed before designs are drafted or content created. Whether a project is large or small, long term or short, MJE always brings to bear the maximum and extraordinary talents of its select team of writers, designers, analysts and marketing professionals. We are not a traditional agency with layers of departments and staff. Instead you will find a tight group of experts who stay involved – from concept to completion.


The Plaza de Panama project will transform the core of Balboa Park into a grand public space for San Diego.  By removing cars from the heart of the park, the Plaza de Panama, Plaza de California, West El Prado and Esplanade will be restored to their historic use as pedestrian park spaces.  The new Centennial Bridge and Road will provide an alternate route for vehicles that avoids pedestrian areas and leads to a new underground parking structure topped by a 2-acre park.  The project will create 6.3 acres of new parks, plazas and promenades out of what are now roads and parking lots.

The Plaza de Panama project is scheduled to be complete in time for the 2015 Centennial Celebration, and will provide spectacular venues for this yearlong celebration of Balboa Park.

See inside to explore the Plaza de Panama project. . .

Centennial BridgeCentennial BridgeTime Lapse
Plan ViewCentennial Bridge ViewsTime Lapse Videos



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