Fans of the Bay Club San Francisco Tennis facility, a replacement for which was promised by the developer of the 88 Bluxome complex when the project was approved two years ago, scored a possible win at the Board of Appeals on Wednesday.
88 Bluxome, as you may recall, is a massive new mixed-use complex approved in 2019 with 1 million square feet of office, life science labs, light-industrial space, and retail. Developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities, as a concession to the landowner they purchased the property from (the Bay Club) and its many fans, pledged to build replacement tennis courts in the basement of the completed complex.
Pinterest initially signed on in March 2019 to take much of the office space, 490,000 square feet, but then pulled out of that deal during the pandemic — when it became clear that many tech companies might need a lot less office space in the future, not more. Pinterest paid handsomely — a fine of nearly $90 million — to back out, and they did so in August 2020, just a month before the Bay Club shut down tennis operations in preparation for construction. The tennis club has since relocated to South San Francisco.
In April 2021, Alexandria announced that it was reneging on the replacement tennis club, citing the loss of anchor tenant Pinterest and saying the 164,350-square-foot club no longer made financial sense for them.
A group calling itself San Franciscans for Sports and Recreation (SFFSR), which had negotiated the tennis club replacement with Alexandria prior to the project's approval, appealed to the SF Board of Appeals, and the board ruled Wednesday that this was, in fact, a significant enough change to warrant a revisit of the project by the Planning Commission. As the SF Business Times reports, the developer has framed the removal of the tennis component as minor, and the Zoning Administrator previously ruled in the developer's favor, saying this was a "less than significant change."
But the issue rests on the word "significant," which figures into the language of the project's entitlements — and the appeals board agreed with SFFSR's attorney Anthony Giles that the tennis club is potentially "significant" to the project as a whole. Giles argued that the 3-acre facility constitutes 10% of the overall project, and this all amounted to a "bait and switch."
"They have pulled a fast one not only on us— the organization that negotiated for it and the community that would benefit massively by it — but also on the city itself," Giles said, per the Business Times.
The Planning Commission will likely get the final say, though their decision could still be appealed further.
Per the Business Times, Board of Appeals Commissioner Ann Lazarus said that allowing the developer to remove this component of the project without review would "set a dangerous precedent," and that developers may try such tricks in the future when a piece of the project is in a basement and doesn't impact the design or appearance.