By Thomas K. Pendergast
New housing at the Alexandria Theatre is being considered by the property owner, but with conditions that do not satisfy District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, who is trying to secure landmark status for the iconic Richmond District building.
In an April 18 letter responding to an information request by Chan, the attorneys for Yorke Lee, the owner of the real estate company Timespace Alexandria LLC, described a proposal for an eight-story building at the site, which would include 74 residential units, nearly 4,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and more than 4,700 square feet of common area outdoor space.
They further requested the abatement of a pending Notice of Enforcement (NOE) from the San Francisco Planning Department requiring restoration and preservation of some historic elements of the building.
“Currently, my client’s design team is preparing a new development plan that converts the property to housing and maintains the most significant character defining features,” the letter from Nick Colla, of the law firm Colla and Ray LLP, states. “These features include the primary building elevations, the blade sign, marquee, entry (including the terrazzo flooring), and lobby with various character defining elements (drinking fountain, reliefs, lighting fixtures, etc.). We understand that the chandelier and murals are important, and we are exploring, if possible, how best to incorporate these in the new plan. Our plan will include the repair and restoration of the marquee and blade sign.”
They also estimate this would require a construction loan exceeding $65 million, plus another $12 million in investment capital.
“It is imperative that we make our proposal attractive to potential lenders. We request that the City enter a project development agreement with my client, which would allow the project to exceed current height and density limits. We request that the affordable unit requirement be set at 12% for this project.
“Lastly, we request that the City remains open to alternatives to landmarking the property, which would essentially foreclose any opportunity for this project to qualify for a CEQA exemption and inevitably delay the commencement of construction.”
In her response letter, Chan rejected those particular requests.
“In the proposal, the owner requested to enter into a project development agreement with the City of San Francisco,” Chan said. “A project development agreement contains community benefits that address the need for equitable outcomes, including significant affordable housing and local employment components. Your proposal indicates that the agreement would significantly lower or modify the City’s existing inclusionary requirements. Then you should know that your current proposal does not meet the needs and expectations for housing that the Richmond community could afford and deserves.”
The theater has been closed since 2004. Since then, ownership has passed through different people without any movement toward renovation or restoration, so over the years it has slowly deteriorated to its present state.
After taking ownership, in 2017 Lee submitted and received approval from the SF Planning Commission to build a 13,322-square-foot “swim center” featuring two swimming pools on the first floor, a “learning center” on a second floor and a “business center” on the third floor.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Lee couldn’t find construction loans, especially for swimming pools because of concerns about those types of places possibly spreading the coronavirus.
Chan has previously stated that she tried to get a community revitalization grant, but the property did not qualify. So, she tried to get the City to buy the property to build 100% affordable housing, but they couldn’t come to an agreement between the City’s assessed value and a price that Lee was willing to sell it to them.
Built in 1923, the theater building will be 100 years old next November.
On April 15, Chan sent a letter to the landowner and his lawyers inquiring about the status of their plans.
“Seeing the regrettable state of Alexandria Theatre because of the owner’s lack of care and progress for development, I’m hereby notifying the owner that I will utilize every legislative tool to push for the preservation of the key historical elements and the future plans for the development of the Alexandria Theatre until I receive the owner’s plans for abatements of current violations and future development in writing,” Chan said.
She ended her next letter responding to their proposal, however, with a more conciliatory tone, while also requesting more information.
“It is important that we continue our conversations productively and make concrete progress to develop the Alexandria Theatre into a housing project,” Chan said in her April 19 response letter. “As such, I ask that you provide my office documentation indicating your project feasibility with financing details. Your document will likely help us propose an agreement that is mutually agreeable and move forward in a timely fashion.”
Connie needs to forget the conciliatory letter. Keep up the pressure on this and any Developer. The only Goal of any Developer is Profit. Don’t forget that unassailable fact of the business world.
Surrounding retail is barely hanging on by a thread. these are family owned businesses. when you have a vacant building for 20 years on a street corner, you’re creating a harsh environment for small retailers. Let someone build. Let them make a profit. Affordable housing or not. Your idealism is stifling creation of new housing. SF needs more units.
Here’s the SF housing problem in a nutshell. An owner is proposing to build a huge amount of desperately-needed housing, including affordable housing, replacing a dilapidated eyesore that needs to be torn down. The new building will retain key character features to allow the preservation society to pat themselves on the back. Yet we can’t get this housing built because our supervisor and backers like Lee Heidhues won’t take yes for an answer. My advice to this developer is stay strong and give nothing further to these myopic people. Let the next supervisor take credit for this no-brainer project.
The Geary corridor at 18th Avenue is already over crowded. This issue is about avaricious developers who care not about the community. I am no fan of Connie. A politician who, on most issues, is too anxious to compromise when she needs to hang tough.