Replacing the Concourse - Page 2

Huge project in Showplace Square begins new residential push in the eastern neighborhoods

Developers propose to replace the Concourse Exhibition Center with 674 homes

It would be a major challenge to move, said Robbie Kowal, the co-director of Sea of Dreams, a huge party and concert that will hold its seventh annual celebration this New Years Eve at the Concourse. "There's the Cow Palace, and the Design Center, but it's not that big, not a place where you can put a proper concert on one side and a multitude of different kinds of spaces [on the other]. The Sea of Dreams' success is attributable to the proper use of the Concourse."

With 125,000 square feet of space that can be split into its west and east halls and a mezzanine, the Concourse building has catered to annual festivals and events for more than 20 years, holding as many as 6,800 people at once.

"There's room for so many different communities in there. We love our home," said Kowal. "It's a really unique and wonderful space."

The redwood frame of the Concourse, accented by glass fronts that allow for natural lighting, used to be a furniture mart and then a fashion and jewelry mart before it was an event center. The project proposal's architect, David Baker and Partners, has already designed many of the new buildings in Showplace Square.

Bay West isn't worried about where the Concourse shows will go. "Most of our shows use less than 20,000 square feet," said Murphy. "The larger shows would go to the 100,000 square foot San Mateo County Event Center."

Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association says the intention of the plan is to reduce the light industrial area by zoning more of it for residential uses, protecting only about half of it and converting the remainder.

"This is an area where we don't have enough parks, or transit. The project would double the population, and we don't have enough new infrastructure to handle it," he said. "It's essentially a ticking time bomb that the city's going to have to get a handle on at some point, or these residents are going to be miserable."

Though the project would create at least an acre of publicly accessible open space, some residents wonder if it's enough, and the concern about insufficient transit remains.

"It seems to me that once again there is too much parking near a freeway entrance, inadequate transit that is not likely to improve significantly once the Transit Effectiveness Project [a city plan for improving Muni service] is implemented," said activist Sue Vaughan, who rides her bike at least part way during her commute from the Richmond District to REI at 840 Brannan Street for work.

"This is exactly the kind of place that attracts (commuters)," said Hestor. "There's too much parking. There's crappy transit. It totally undermines any idea of sustainable development."

But at the commission hearing, Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya didn't think Hestor's argument had merit. "Parking is not an environmental impact as far as the city is concerned," he said.

Vaughan says that Muni managers have been absent from several development meetings in the Eastern Neighborhoods area. "No one from Muni was represented on this panel discussion about the Sustainable Communities Strategy," she said, referring to a July 6 meeting convened by the Planning Department to discuss the importance of building housing next to accessible transit.

The Concourse is scarcely accessible by bus lines 10 and 19, but with a growing population in Showplace Square, it wouldn't be enough, says Vaughan. "We're moving forward with all these projects with lots of parking near freeway entrances, which makes it seems like SF is becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. You have an impact on Muni when that happens. With more cars, there's more congestion for buses."

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