Add losing local music venues to the ever-increasing list of casualties of the tech boom.
As SFist previously reported, the owners of Mission venue Elbo Room were considering turning it into a 9-unit condo building, and based on this new Chronicle story, the plan appears to be moving forward (see updates below). Similarly, the Dogpatch’s Café Cocomo is getting demolished to make way for two five-story residential buildings, and SoMa club The Sound Factory will soon be a 16-story residential building.
Elbo Room is not closed and owner Matt Shapiro says it's not happening anytime soon. The venue's calendar is updated through September 9.
What's as unsettling as these places disappearing is the anxiety expressed by thriving music venues such as The Independent and Bottom of the Hill, both of which will likely soon have neighboring condos with outdoor spaces ridiculously close to them.
In the case of The Independent, as SFist previously reported, a 16 unit condo development with three retail or restaurant spaces is set to go in directly next door. The condo’s rear units will only be 55 feet away from the venue and residents using the patios will almost guaranteed hear music and noise. The developer says it only plans to soundproof the condos based on city requirements. When I recently caught a show at The Independent, two employees said they feared the new condo development could shut down the club.
And now, according to the Chronicle, the former Harding Theater on the other side of The Independent may become mixed-use condos and retail, after years of neighborhood advocates fighting to save it.
Allen Scott of Another Planet Entertainment, which handles promotion for The Independent, tells the Chronicle, "residential development has the potential to disrupt the way that we operate. We welcome the extension of the commercial corridor on Divisadero Street, but we do so with our eyes wide open."
As for Bottom of the Hill, developers are looking to build 395 units a block away at the former Corovan storage center, while, separately, there are two proposed condo buildings with decks that could go around the corner on Missouri Street. Those decks would be directly above the venue's outdoor patio, which is often smokey and loud.
One of Bottom of the Hill's owners, Tim Benetti, sounds worried: "For us it seems like development is a train coming down the track. We will do our best to negotiate survival, but if it's too big and comes too fast, I don't know how we are going to negotiate that."
And while it's easy to say that anyone moving into a unit close to a music venue should know what they're getting into, noise complaints are common.
In 2013, Mission venue Brick & Mortar Music Hall was nearly shut down due to noise complaints from neighbors. As a result, the venue had to install $50,000 worth of additional soundproofing.
One of Brick & Mortar's owners, Jason Perkins, explains how it happened: "We have had several people move in behind us and the next day they are calling the police. They have to go to bed so they can get up in the morning and get to the Google bus."
Slim's in SoMa had to spend $259,000 on soundproofing, in response to persisting complaints from one neighbor. Slim's manager Dawn Holliday says the resident still calls the police, but now they just ignore her.
And The Chapel on Valencia Street is also facing complaints from one resident who purchased a nearby, $1 million condo a year after the venue opened in late 2012. Holliday, who also manages and books The Chapel, says she feels like the venue will have to do what Slim's did and shell out more money for soundproofing: "We are going to end up with the same problem. It's baffling."
Disputes between venues and residents during the first tech boom led to the formation of an Entertainment Commission, which handles permits, sound inspection, and complaints. Executive Director Jocelyn Kane says "there is danger lurking" for local venues, adding, "There are not that many live music venues, and we need to keep the ones we have."
Working alongside the Entertainment Commission, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development launched NightLifeSF to "connect nightlife and entertainment businesses to information about new development projects and help these businesses effectively engage in the planning process in their communities," according to director Todd Rufo.
Update: Elbo Room posted on Facebook that "nothing has changed since last round of rumors," but note that initial reports were based on a document the building owners filed with the Planning Commission in November 2013. It can take years to get through the planning process for a condo.
Update 2: After some angry messages saying our original post is wrong, we called the San Francisco Planning Department, which confirmed that following the initial Preliminary Project Assessment, the owners of 645 Valencia Street filed a Determination of Appropriate Environmental Document on January 30, 2014 (see for yourself by searching active permits at sf-planning.org). Environmental Planner Tania Sheyner says the proposed project includes 647 Valencia Street, the corner lot that Elbo Room is currently occupying, and would call for it being demolished to construct a mixed use commercial/residential building. Sheyner says that the owners are waiting to hear back from the city's Historic Preservation Commission as to whether the property is considered a historic resource, which could protect it from alteration or demolition.