Replacing the Concourse

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

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Developers propose to replace the Concourse Exhibition Center with 674 homes
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MIRISSA NEFF

news@sfbg.com

In one of the few remaining San Francisco neighborhoods untouched by gentrification, there is a proposal to demolish the Concourse Exhibition Center and replace the quintessential Showplace Square building with a market-rate residential project, which the developer says will be rental apartments.

This is the first major project in the new Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that will change the light industrial neighborhood where brick and mortar meet interior design, raising questions about whether the development would be sustainable, transit-oriented, and family-friendly.

Home to annual events like the Green Festival and the KPFA Craft Fair, the Concourse is where mom and pop vendors share their wares in an affordable venue — one of the few remaining in the city.

"Since '96," recounted Alan Van De Kamp, director of sales for the Green Festival, "they've been trying to sell it, to tear it down. You never know from year to year ... You imagine at some point, somebody's gonna say it's time."

Though nothing has been approved, the current proposal by developer and Concourse owner Bay West Development, first introduced in 2000, has come the farthest yet. The project will be considered for approval by the Planning Commission once the environmental review process is complete, which could take up to six months. Public comments on the project will be accepted until August 8.

The proposed project contains two sites, one at 801 Brannan Street and one at 1 Henry Adams Street, which would result in a total development of up to 674 residential units, 43,037 square feet of retail space, and 673 parking spaces. Under the city's inclusionary housing laws, 221 of those units would be affordable (71 to be built on site and 150 dedicated to the city for development). Of the total parking spaces, 166 spaces would replace existing parking spots at the site.

Bay West, developer of the San Francisco Design Center, has owned the Concourse building for 30 years and wants to demolish and rebuild as part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Rezoning and Area Plans, the blueprint for development in a part of the city dominated by working class residents.

That controversial plan was in development for years, during which there was a moratorium on approval of large projects, and it was finally adopted in 2008. It was created to redevelop The Mission, Showplace Square/Potrero Hill, East SoMa, and the Central Waterfront — 7 percent of the city's 47 square miles — over 20 years.

"It's our feeling that the building itself is beyond its use as an exhibit hall and we're replacing it with housing units," said Sean Murphy, a partner at Bay West.

The Planning Commission heard the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposal on July 28. At the hearing, the commissioners expressed interest in seeing the progression of the development, but not all were convinced.

"There is a certain amount of vagueness," said Commissioner Kathrin Moore. "This EIR is ultimately tempered by the strong policy issues that underlie building in the Eastern Neighborhoods and at this moment I don't quite see that."

The proposal has left some questions unanswered, such as, where will the small vendors go to sell their wares? Bay West has suggested exhibition halls like the Cow Palace or Moscone Center, but Green Festival organizers say that isn't realistic for everyone. "We would lose some of our vendors if we went to Moscone," said Van De Kamp. "There's some people that can't come. A lot of the green economy is about mom and pops. They can't afford it."

Sue Hestor, a land-use attorney who opposes the development, asked vendors who use the Concourse how important leaving the center would be. "For a lot of people," she said, "it meant the difference for them being viable or not."

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