An SF Board of Supervisors committee was in favor of saving the Castro Theatre seats at a Monday hearing, and while the vote is nowhere near final, they brought up a skeleton in Another Planet Entertainment’s closet regarding millions in unfinished renovations at Bill Graham Auditorium.
In the ongoing saga of Another Planet Entertainment (APE) taking over operations of the Castro Theatre and hoping to renovate the interior with removable seats, the latest development was an attempt to give landmark protection to the seats, which would certainly be a wrench in APE’s plans. The SF Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee heard that matter on April 3, but kicked the decision out until April 17, which was Monday.
And it feels like parliamentary minutiae wrapped in an enigma that when the vote arrived, the committee voted to merely add an amendment of a few sentences to the existing landmark designation, and then voted to vote again on the amended designation, with the few sentences added, at their April 24 meeting.
But the biggest news from Monday may have been 23-year-old news, old news which hasn’t received much attention in years. Supervisor Aaron Peskin brought up APE’s 2010 lease of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and the promised $10 million renovation that the concert promoter promised with it. Peskin alleges that renovation never happened, and that APE has a history of making grand promises to renovate venues and then failing to follow through.
“Not unlike the Castro situation, APE was supposed to perform at least $10 million in capital improvements,” Peskin said. “All construction was to be completed within 40 months of the commencement date. It was not.”
“The improvements still haven’t been done,” he added. “This behavior over the last 13 years is a reasonable predictor of future behavior.”
That may or may not prove a deal breaker when this committee recommendation goes before the full Board of Supervisors. But the district’s supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is not on the Land Use and Transportation Committee though spoke Monday anyway, sounds like he’s still trying to broker a deal between all interested parties.
“I am unfortunately sad to report that we have not had luck in these negotiations,” Mandelman said at Monday’s meeting. “APE has not made this easy, but they have moved a lot since the initial presentation of their plans last year. I regret that the [Castro Theatre] Conservancy and APE have not been able to agree on an arrangement to give the Conservancy a role in ensuring the continued showing of film at the theater.”
As with all of these Castro Theatre meetings, there were multiple hours of highly opinionated public comment. One surprise commenter was one of the theater’s co-owners, Elaine Nasser Padian.
“Please do not tie our hands for years to come, but allow APE’s plans to move forward to benefit the neighbors and all merchants,” Nasser Padian told the committee.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar was sympathetic. “We need to be as flexible as possible to make sure that a business enterprise can continue on that commercial corridor,” she said Monday. “I will not support the amendment.”
The amendment’s sponsor, Supervisor Dean Preston, pointed out that it’s not City Hall’s fault that no events have been scheduled at the Castro since January 28, nearly three full months. “This theater has not sat vacant or been dark because of whether the seats come or go out of the theater," Preston said.
(In fairness: It is true the Castro Theatre has sat dark with no events scheduled for now 77 consecutive days. But the theater does have two SFFILM Festival screenings tonight, Tuesday, April 18. The theater’s schedule then shows two more days with events in April, three days of events in May if you count the Heklina memorial, three days with scheduled events in June, and then nothing until September 28. That still ain’t much, but it’s an improvement over recent months.)
So again, in technical, parliamentary language, on Monday the committee approved an amendment adding the “Inclusion of fixed theatrical seating configured in the movie-palace style as character-defining interior features” into the Castro Theatre’s landmark designation. This same committee will then vote on that new landmark designation with the amended language on Monday, April 24. And that won’t be final either, because the whole thing still has to go before the full Board of Supervisors.
That is, unless Supervisor Mandelman’s attempts at dealmaking somehow resolve all of this before it goes to the supervisors.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist