SF Parks Commission Looking at Three Bids for Palace of Fine Arts Project

Birds swim near the Palace of Fine Arts rotunda

Birds swim near the Palace of Fine Arts rotunda. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission held a public meeting at City Hall Thursday to solidify the top three proposed redevelopment concepts for the Palace of Fine Arts. The winner of the redevelopment bid will score a 55-year lease to the historic San Francisco arts center that was built 100 years ago as part of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915.

The top bids include two that plan to turn the Palace of Fine Arts into a hotel, and one that proposes it remake the iconic building into a fine-dining restaurant and educational museum. Representatives from all three perspective projects attended the meeting at City Hall Thursday as well as a sizeable crowd who protested the Commission’s rejection of proposals aimed to preserve the Palace of Fine Arts’ cultural legacy.

Julie Mushet, Executive Director of The Center for Global Arts and Cultures, the non-profit that hosts of the annual Ethnic Dance Festival, submitted a proposal that aimed to turn the Palace of Fine Arts into a multi-cultural arts center. Their proposal was rejected by the Park and Recs Committee and on Thursday, Mushet asked that it be reconsidered and added to the final list of redevelopment contenders.

“Our proposal is really the only one that will attract and provide the necessary access to the most expansive and inclusive definition of community,” Mushet told KQED Arts. “One of the proposals that’s a finalist said that they’ll make $9 million in profit a year off of the theater. So it really raises the question that if there’s a hotel and a theater, is this Las Vegas? Is this going to be Cirque Du Soleil?

Equity Community Builders (ECB), the development firm that holds one of the final bids, has prior experience refashioning historic Bay Area buildings. In 2008, ECB transformed Fort Baker’s old army barracks into the chic Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito. Ben Golvin, one of ECB’s lead developers, says their plan is to remodel the Palace of Fine Arts into a hotel built above “an arcade devoted to the arts and the maker culture in San Francisco.”

While Park and Rec Commissioners Mark Buell and Gloria Bonilla both voted Thursday to uphold the decision to name only three top bids, Julie Mushet said she will continue to fight for her proposal.

UPDATE: An online petition asking the city to reject all three proposals is gaining popularity, which you can read about on KQED Arts.

SF Parks Commission Looking at Three Bids for Palace of Fine Arts Project 12 November,2015Leah Rose

  • Candice Yaeger De Armon

    I think it is very important that the re-purposing of the building be inclusive of the entire community, rather than excluding a large segment of the population such as a hotel or a fine dining restaurant would do.

    • Robert

      Right, for the ones that barely used it or cared before? Who is this phantom group we’re all preserving things for? The ones who were not around to support or truly participate in this stylistic rose-colored wonderful storybook SF that existed, maybe, in the late 50’s?

  • notadvised

    here we go again… Rec & Parks privatizing our public spaces…. there’s sure to be a few backroom deals going on here and the biggest Newsom campaign donor will win. Mark Buell is a Newsom campaign donor… and a turncoat for his native city. Disgusting.

  • BFlatlander

    Oh well, at least Maybeck is dead so he doesn’t have to witness this insult. Why not turn it into a private Members Only club, like The City Club, but let it be open to the public for 2 hours each day so they can respectfully and humbly stand behind a velvet rope to peer in at the Private Members. It will be uplifting for the public to see people who are successful.

  • Chris Cupit

    What do you expect, half the city recently moved here from some where else in the past 5 years, so the new residents have no connection to the city, they have replaced the longterm residents who cared about our city. Hence, the low voter participation because the new residents have forever ruined the cultural distinction of our neighborhoods, so sad, What I hate is the new residents are arrogant and rude, try smiling or saying hello they are snobby little brats!

    • microlith

      That’s a mighty wide brush you have there, I don’t think I can see the other end!

    • Robert

      So? They live here too. Things change. Go have lunch at your Homesick Cafe. Oh wait, it closed.

    • ImaLetUFinish

      talk about having the comments bolster your case

  • Pathetica

    Whatever. It will be something the vast majority of us can’t afford.

    • Marcus Harvey

      Most people in San Francisco cannot afford to go to an upscale restaurant or spend an afternoon at a museum? Are you sure about that?

      • Pathetica

        No matter which of these bids wins, it looks to me like the end result is just another playground for the rich. Educational museum? How vague could they be?

        • Marcus Harvey

          Museums are for the rich? How vague is your definition of “rich?”

          • Pathetica

            So, you think these people are going to put an “educational” museum by their upscale restaurant and draw in the 47%?

          • Marcus Harvey

            I’m not sure what you mean by your “47%” comment.

            All “big” cities have restaurants, museums, art galleries, opera houses(!) etc. That’s on of the reasons people choose to live in them. Personally I don’t care much for opera and have never been here but I don’t begrudge its existence.

            For the record, the median household income in San Francisco County is a little over $75K. That seems to me as enough to cover a few fancy meals out a year and some museum trips.

            What do YOU want the city to be?

          • Pathetica

            Of course they have restaurants, museums etc. My problem is “public” land being handed to developers so they can make even more money building things most of the “public” can’t afford.

          • Marcus Harvey

            I agree that the selling off of public land/property is a concern. I don’t agree that most people in SF won’t be able to afford a restaurant/museum. Then again the Exploratorium used to be here so it hasn’t been “public” space for a while has it?

            I skimmed through the rejected proposal which is for a performing arts theatre, not sure why it was rejected, but obviously performances which would also cost money to attend. Would be better than another hotel though.

        • Robert

          All SF is a playground for the rich

  • CDavidson

    Why isn’t this a LANDMARK?!

    • CP19

      It is… it’s listed on the National Register, California Register, and as a SF Landmark. Any project will have to undergo intense historic evaluation under the California Environmental Quality Act.

  • Sadie McFarlane

    Is there anything we can do? Who can we write letters to? This hurts my heart….

  • vlboyle

    This beautiful iconic San Francisco landmark should be treasured not turned into a commercial endeavor. Where is SF’s conscience?

  • njudah

    Ed Lee’s Parks and Rec dept. is corrupt and sees all SF public property as merely assets to privatize and make a few pennies off of, always pleading “poverty” when they sell out the public they claim to serve. We’re stuck with this for four more years, minimum. Next time there’s a mayor’s race PAY ATTENTION and support credible candidates who can actually change things, not pie in the sky hippies.

  • Robin Phillips

    This is a disgrace!

  • Norm Halm

    No Leah Rose, the buying and selling of SF is NOT like Las Vegas. You see, since being pushed out of SF after 17 years of living there, as an artist, I relocated to Vegas. I know what it’s like to actually live in both towns, from experience. The Vegas politics and economy support a thriving and diverse middle class. How about that middle class in San Francisco, huh? Huge difference- HUGE. I never thought I would utter these words but my partner & me are way better off in Vegas than SF. I mean OMG, I actually have middle class Black & Latino neighbors now! That IS important to some people… WE are middle class now! And I’m still an artist! Say WHAT!? (& NONE of my new neighbors have been Ellis acted! Score!)

    Vegas doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not. The magic & mystery of SF is gone but that city still capitalizes on an identity that’s just not true anymore. It’s an overpriced brunch spot anymore- with human feces all over the sidewalks. And I know- I used to walk two miles back and forth to work everyday. No shinny google bus (appropriating public resources) to lift ME out of the riff raff…

    So the city should just Air BnB the palace, then split the profits with Ron Conway. OR- turn it into a google campus!!! Think of how the homes will appreciate in that area! Just make sure to demolish that charming old building and replace it with a big ugly glass box.

    • Duh

      No offense, Norm, but the only difference is that Vegas actually has space to build. The politics and economics would play out the exact same if Vegas was similarly physically constricted.

      • Norm Halm

        Not when you consider the entire metro area. This is fair because of where jobs are in the Bay Area, commuting trends, how far “Silicon Valley” reaches and that there IS land to build in Bay Area counties. According to census estimates from 2014, the San Francisco Metropolitan Area is nearly 7,000 square miles with a population density of 1,065/sq mile. The Las Vegas Metropolitan area is 600 square miles, surrounded by mountains and desert, with a population density of 3,393/sq mile.

        The currant state of SF can’t be explained away, much less excused, by supply and demand alone. The vast majority of housing being raised in SF is allocated specifically to high earners and the opponents of luxury/market rate building moratorium cry “supply & demand! basic economics!” As if no one learned from the 80’s that trickle down effect does NOT work.

        In a huge metro area, it seems like little SF is expected to bear a disproportionate burden to build. Cities on the peninsula keep their policies that discourage the development of affordable housing. EVERY city in the Bay Area should be rising to the occasion, especially those where big tech companies are located! They claim state and federal cuts as an excuse to not build BMR housing, sorry but I’m not buying it. I also don’t see anyone calling cities on the peninsula to task, and no one is talking about that. As if scarcity of land within SF city limits means everyone should just conveniently ignore all the other land nearby.

        And why isn’t SF putting pressure on these towns to step up? Because the scarcity of land in the city is working out quite well for certain folks. The moneyed powers fraternizing with SF city hall want to reappropriate SF and already existing communities into a “world class city” for the wealthy. This is a deliberate paradigm shift. When Willie Brown was mayor, he was brazen about it and that spirit has only gotten stronger at city hall since he left the mayor’s office. I’m sorry but THIS is every bit as much of a driving force in what’s happening to SF than the supply and demand of land in just one 49 square mile city in an entire 6,984 square mile metropolitan area.

  • Roxanna12

    This is disgusting another way of taking something very ver Public and Privatizing it for a few at public expense.

  • DE

    I had the great opportunity to visit the Place of Fine Arts in September 2015 and thought how nice it was of SF to maintain and preserve a beautiful piece of history for everyone to enjoy. It would be a horrific shame for SF to Lease it out for the $ and not for the citizens of SF, California, the United States, and all of the International Visitors. SHAME ON YOU SF for putting your quest for money over history and art that you were blessed to inherit from past residents of your fair city who wanted to celebrate SF not sell it off for cash.

  • -Rev Michael

    level it and make a high cost parking lot for the Marina or perhaps a new sewage treatment plant since the two most important issues in Da City are parking and poop

  • tb

    It seems very unclear what exactly is being turned into a hotel, or whatever it ends up being. Will the theater be demolished? Are we talking only about the half that housed the Exploratorium? Obviously they won’t touch the Rotunda and that area, but what is actually being discussed?

  • sfparkripoff

    Won’t Anybody Think of the Poor Corrupt City Officials? Everyone ignoring the root cause of why SF public spaces have been aggressively
    sold off to private companies. The crushing weight of San Francisco City employees’ salaries and benefits is the reason why the city has a $7.9 billion budget. Over one-half of the Mayor’s budget — $3.9 billion — is dedicated to City employee salaries and benefits.

    For Fiscal Year 2013–2014 the City INCREASED SPENDING by $710 million, adding 866 more City government employees, bringing the total to 27,722 full-time equivalent employees. The average City employee makes $99,000 with benefits, while the average citizen makes about $73,000 with few or no benefits………And don’t forget that 11,361 workers – or nearly a quarter of the city’s full-time workforce – made more than $100,000 last year.

    Watching officials deal with SF city finances is like viewing a slow-motion train wreck. City salaries, plus the the oncoming wave of public pension debt will eventually drown the city budget in red ink. In the meantime City Hall is going to sell off anything that isn’t nailed down, and taxpayers will be their ATM machine.

  • Charlie

    No! I can’t believe SF is selling out again!! The loss of public space and the loss of ourselves is real and happening all around us. Stop the greed and the threat of private interests capitalizing off our spaces. #publicspacesnow

  • Deb

    It is just disgusting and greedy. Can’t believe it!! A beautiful place goes to the highest bidder!

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