Wanted: A New Owner To Energize The Fillmore Heritage Center's Vacant Venues

On Monday night, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, and District 5 Supervisor London Breed introduced their selection process in the hunt for new ownership of the long-empty venue at 1330 Fillmore.

The offices came together to create a formal Request for Interest (RFI) for potential qualified buyers to take over the commercial portions of the Fillmore Heritage Center, which has been appraised at $11.2 million. The minimum bid price for the property is only $6.3 million, which would allow the Mayor's Office of Community Housing and Development (MOHCD) to pay down the debt it owes to HUD (the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development).

This money was earmarked for HUD housing. Every month that the property sits empty is another month that funds are being taken away from this affordable housing initiative for the Western Addition, as the loan which was granted to the Fillmore Development Commercial (FDC) is valued at $5.5 million to build commercial space.

The 50,000-square-foot commercial portion of the building includes a 28,000-square-foot entertainment venue and restaurant, and a 6,000-square-foot restaurant and lounge, as well as the adjacent 112-space public parking garage with access through the building lobby. (The residential portion on the floors above the venue are not available for sale.)

Through the RFI process, interested parties must be able to prove that they are qualified to operate the Fillmore Heritage Center by showing a track record of financially sustainable properties similar to the development, as well as demonstrating their ability to partner with organizations to ensure that the use benefits the Western Addition community. 

Photo: Google

Not to be confused with the RFP process (which is scheduled to launch at a later date in Spring of 2016), the RFI process will help the city brainstorm ideas about what type of business could potentially take over the venue, develop selection criteria and set the infrastructure for the RFP. 

Upon submitting the RFI, interested parties will be on the city's radar for the RFP process. Basic requirements for the RFP will include a business plan, verification of funding sources, and a detailed description on short and long term community benefit initiatives. 

In the interim, there will also be a smaller, temporary community activation program for the former Lush Life Gallery, Lobby and Heritage Screening room (which seats up to 60), managed by community organization Urban Solutions

Along with a hunt for a new owner, the meeting highlighted the center's prior failures.

"What was happening in this space previously was not working," said Deputy Director OEWD, Joaquin Torres. "By the fact that it closed not once, but twice. To have the city in a place where it's managing the daily operations of a building like this, as complicated as it is, is not something that we believe in we are in the best position to do."

Finding an owner who can not just financially support the space, but also cater to the community, is another challenge.

"If I had my way. I would take this property and own it myself. I'd be happy to   give it to the community. I'd be happy to make that work," said Supervisor London Breed. "But we are here to find a way, not point fingers. The team has been coming to the table with their heart and soul to figure out away to make this work for this community. Because if someone here has a lot of money and they are not trying to work with this community—then this is not the right project for them. A lot of bad things have been done to the community, but this meeting is about how we are going to make it right." 

London Breed with entertainer Reed Shannon at the former Yoshi's. (Photo: Reed Shannon/Facebook)

Majeid Crawford, a longtime activist/resident of the Western Addition and a member of the Fillmore Bay Area Media Group expressed his thoughts about the RFI initiative.

"I think the RFI is a great approach," he said. "There are going to be challenges in transferring this property from State to private ownership, but the RFI is a good start by allowing stakeholders to get to know each other." 

Other community members expressed their concerns about preserving the African American historical elements of the development. Christine Harris, who is a former resident of The Heritage Center, had recommendations for the terms of the RFP.

"Respondents should demonstrate a verifiable commitment to African-American entrepreneurship," she said. "They should also be required to demonstrate in concrete terms the nature of the community benefit agreement that they will enter in to to ensure and promote African-American culture. Entrepreneurship and preservation of African-American culture was part of the original intent, and it should remain that way when it comes to this project." 

The space as The Addition, which closed in early 2015. (Photo: Yelp)

The RFI for the Fillmore Heritage center will be due on March 4th, 2016. The opportunity is open to interested parties with the intent to purchase the property (based on the city's guidelines), and also those who may not necessarily obtain the funds to purchase but want to work on the community benefit portion of the project. 

While no one has officially stepped forward with the intent to purchase the development yet, with the RFI process underway, the Fillmore community could soon have an idea of who the property's new owner might be.

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