It's been years of false starts and back and forth between the community and the city, but there's finally some movement at the Fillmore Heritage Center that could see it transformed into a lively destination again in the coming years.
The long vacant and increasingly blighted Fillmore Heritage Center — which itself was meant, when it was completed in 2007, to enliven the area and cure some of the blight created by a poorly executed, decades-old redevelopment plan for the Fillmore neighborhood — is the subject of a new city RFP (request for proposals) process. And there are five entities now competing to purchase and revamp the center.
The last we heard, actor Danny Glover and some community groups held a press conference outside the center in November 2021, demanding that the city turn over the beleaguered property to a community-run nonprofit. For years it has been discussed as a form of reparations to the Black to the community, and the Fillmore community specifically, where businesses, tenants, and homeowners were decimated and systematically pushed out in the 1960s and 70s in the name of "redevelopment" and urban renewal — a process that writer James Baldwin caustically referred to, on a visit to San Francisco, as "Negro removal."
But there has been some complication in the process, and the city seems set on recouping some of the funds it put into the construction of the center two decades ago, though there has seemed to be some willingness on the part of the city to eventually sell the property at a deep discount.
As the SF Business Times reports this week, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development put out an RFP for the 50,000-square-foot center earlier this year, with final responses due last week. Five applicants submitted proposals, and the Business Times has identified four of them — though we only know some basic details about what they include.
At least two of the applicants have been in contact with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson about bringing a location of his popular Harlem-based soul food restaurant Red Rooster to the Center — with one proposal suggesting Red Rooster would take over the vacant former 1300 on Fillmore space. Red Rooster currently only has one other location outside of New York, which is Red Rooster Overtown in Miami, but Samuelsson has a dozen other restaurants in locations including Montreal, Atlanta, and the Bahamas.
Those two applicants are local strategic advisor and entrepreneur Linda Parker Pennington — who also proposes using the former Yoshi's restaurant as a coworking space, and giving over the commercial kitchen there to the Bayview's Radio Africa & Kitchen — and local landlord and the owner of the shuttered Fillmore jazz club Agonafer Shiferaw, who has partnered with Frederick Jordan, the president of San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce. The latter pair say they've been in contact with famed jazz venue brand The Blue Note, as well as the B.B. King Club in addition to the Red Rooster team about taking over the jazz club and restaurant spaces.
That pair's proposal also includes adding 30,000 new square feet in "a three-story steel and glass structure over the airspace of the heritage center for office, retail and other service uses."
Parker Pennington's plan would bring in Kim Nally, former owner of the San Francisco jazz club Pearl’s, and Pascal Bokar Thiam, the former owner of the Mission's Savanna Jazz club, to create a new jazz club and curate programming in the former Yoshi's club space.
The other two submitters that the Business Times identified are the New Community Leadership Foundation (NCLF), the community nonprofit that previously reactivated and operated the center for six months in 2019; and a team that includes the San Francisco Housing Development Corp. (SFHDC), which had previously partnered with the NCLF on its 2018 proposal for the center. The SFHDC declined to share any details of what they've proposed.
It should be noted, as the Business Times reports, that things have been somewhat contentious among some of these parties, with Mr. Shiferaw suing the city in 2019 over claims of "cronyism" with the process that gave the NCLF control for a short time — Shiferaw points to friends of Mayor London Breed, who has longtime ties in the neighborhood, as having been awarded that deal. A judge ruled against Shiferaw in the case, but he has appealed.
The deal is for a five-year lease, and the city says it could be open to selling the property after that. The city is proposing to contribute $1 million to the project in the first year to cover deferred maintenance, with further contributions of decreasing sizes over the subsequent years.
We should know who the city has selected in the coming few months, and maybe, by 2025 or so, this keystone of the Fillmore will come back to life.
Photo: Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development