Despite some public outcry over what's been perceived as the potential commercialization of the iconic Palace of Fine Arts, the Rec and Parks Commission voted this week to go forward with three of seven competing proposals for the reuse of the 100-year-old complex. As Socketsite describes, the three leading proposals focus on using the space for event, hotel, and museum uses with restaurant components attached, while two proposals to turn the place into a gym and fitness complex, including one from the Bay Club, were nixed.
As the Examiner notes, a petition had circulated and gathered 20,000 signatures pushing the commission to reject hotel and restaurant proposals in favor of arts-only uses specifically pushing for a proposed Center for Global Arts and Cultures which was a collaboration of World Arts West, the Palace of Fine Arts Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation, and involved some consultation from Alice Waters.
But as Commission President Mark Buell pointed out in a Thursday public meeting, the Palace of Fine Arts has pretty much always been commercial space. "The Exploratorium paid us over half a million dollars a year in rent,” Buell said, referring to the recently relocated museum. "Prior to that, there were tennis courts, there [was] military storage."
The three proposals that won unanimous approval from the Commission yesterday are as follows.
- The Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts: "a vibrant mix of public recreational uses", that feature "leisure, arts, education, dining, accommodations, and gathering spaces" along with a “small-scale, world-class hotel.” The name honors Bernard Maybeck, the architect of the Palace, whose foundation may be a partner in the project.
- Palace of Fine Arts-San Francisco Arts, Crafts, Community and Hospitality: A 174-room hotel atop a renovated public concourse and exhibition hall, embracing "the history, arts, products, crafts and culture of San Francisco."
- The San Francisco Museum At The Palace (SFMAP): A publicly accessible "storytelling museum" focusing on innovation in the Bay Area, with a renovated theater space and great hall, along with a destination restaurant from the Absinthe Group.
The first two proposals, both of which envision adding hotel rooms in the existing, semi-circular main building, received the highest scores from a panel of reviewers, and are the two most likely to be financially feasible.
The winning concept team will be on the hook for approximately $20 million in seismic upgrades and site improvements, including at least $10 million in historic preservation work. As Sarah Ballard of the Rec and Parks Department put it to CBS 5, "For someone to be able to put in the $20 million necessary to bring the building up to code, there does need to be some economic engine." The Center for Global Arts and Cultures apparently is not that engine.
In case you weren't aware, the Palace of Fine Arts was built as a temporary structure for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and both the main structure and rotunda were slated for demolition the following year. The public fought to save it, however, and San Franciscans again voted in 1959 to recast the rotunda and promenade in more permanent materials.
The request for proposals to reuse the space comes after the departure of the Exploratorium two years ago, when it moved to new space on the Embarcadero. The Palace is currently home to another interactive museum, Innovation Hangar, but that lease is up next year.