The art of staying put - Page 2

The area is thriving, but will Mid-Market arts center plan survive the tech boom?

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The place: Mid-Market is booming -- but will the arts lose out?
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

The goals expressed in OEWD's report hint at some of San Francisco's most pressing issues — homeless families unable to sustain high housing costs are increasingly flocking to overwhelmed service providers in San Francisco; nonprofits are vanishing in the face of impossibly overpriced rents; artists are moving to Oakland.

And the fate of 950 Market could be a pivotal moment when the city learns if it's actually possible to bring high-end economic development to the area without displacement.

The 950 Center for Art and Education represents a multi-layered community planning effort many months in the making. Described as "the first multi-tenant, multi-use arts and education center in San Francisco," it came out of a desire to create a permanently affordable complex to house existing art, education and nonprofit organizations in Central Market and the Tenderloin, many of which are finding it harder to remain in San Francisco. In addition to dedicated arts facilities, the complex could provide 20,000 square feet of nonprofit office space.

"The mayor has been very clear with the development community that he thinks arts and cultural facilities are a good fit for this site," Falvey noted. "He communicated this point at a breakfast meeting which he convened along with Supervisor Kim, to developers on Central Market and those looking at property in the area."

Invitations to the breakfast, held Jan. 30, were extended to all interested bidders, as well as area developers. City officials treated the real-estate heavyweights to a power point presentation about local arts organizations, and representatives from a couple prominent foundations were on hand to show philanthropic support for the concept.

IT'S UP TO TEXAS

Lone Star, a Texas-based hedge fund, is selling the complex that would house the center, and was expected to receive final bids earlier this month. Sup. Jane Kim, whose District 6 includes mid-Market, said she was hopeful that the developer would go along with the vision for an arts space — but at this point, that's not the city's decision.

After all, city officials haven't established binding requirements to use the space in a particular way, and turning it into commercial office space or market-rate housing would be far more lucrative. Lone Star declined to comment for this story.

Kim stressed that there are other shuttered properties in the area — the Hibernia Bank, for example — that could eventually house arts groups if this opportunity is lost. But that means going back to the drawing board, even as tech startups eagerly anticipate the completion of their own office renovations.

City officials have also been contemplating a way to sweeten the deal with "a package of incentives to make the project pencil out for the developers," Kim said. This could take the form of an infrastructure finance district, or building height bonuses, she said.

But even with accommodations for wealthy real estate speculators on the table, the plans could still go up in smoke, given Mid-Market's new identity as a tech hotspot. "I'm very concerned about that," Kim said. "The last thing any of us hoped to see is just office space development."

Plans for the 950 Center aim to support economic diversity by placing anchor tenants in long-term leases, then incorporating shared facilities at affordable rates for part-time users in need of lower rent. The idea is to promote stability by sharing resources.

Among those who've expressed interest in moving into the 950 Center is the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, a prominent African American theater group founded in 1981 that lost its performance space but still maintains an office in the neighborhood.