Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on April 07, 2023
Another Planet Entertainment's proposed Castro Theatre plans conditionally approved by neighborhood groupPhoto: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

On Thursday, the Castro Merchants voted to conditionally support Another Planet Entertainment's (APE) proposed changes to the 100-year-old Castro Theatre.

The vote came on the same week that the SF Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee delayed its vote for two weeks on updating the landmark status of the historic Castro Theatre. And it also comes in a week that a major figure in San Francisco's drag world, Heklina, passed on, and the organizers expect to use the theater for a celebration of her life that has yet to be announced. The vote passed with two abstentions and one no vote.

Castro Merchants president Terrance Alan initially made a three-part motion which included: the preparation of an economic impact report, a contractual agreement between the Castro Merchants and APE, and that APE agrees to continue good-faith participation in the negotiations convened by Supervisor Mandelman's office.

"I think it achieves the consensus of the room and shows that a democratic process finds compromise," Alan told Hoodline. "The work ahead is in the details, and this shifts a lot of responsibility to the Supervisor. I believe he is up to the task with the continued support and counsel of his constituents."

Inside the Castro Theatre. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


"It leaves many of the members of the Castro Theater Coalition without direct support and my hope is that the theater continues to be available for the community and embodies its values," added Alan. "The celebration of life for Heklina is a perfect example of an event for which we have no other space. Making sure that the theater is available for community gatherings is critical and nothing in our motion supports that." 

APE senior vice president Mary Conde, vice president of business affairs Dan Serot, and Castro CBD committee member Joe Sangirardi presented the proposed changes to the Castro Theatre.

Jen Reck, Castro LGBTQ Cultural District (CQCD) co-chair and SF State professor, represented the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition who have voiced concerns over the lack of LGBTQ-specific programming and removal of the orchestra-level seats. [Full disclosure: Steven Bracco, Hoodline's Castro reporter, is a board member of the CQCD and member of the Castro Theatre Coalition.]

Ultimately the second part of the motion was removed by Cliff's Variety co-owner Terry Asten Bennett. Asten Bennett also moved to amend the first part to require APE to submit its economic impact report to District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman's office for approval. At the meeting, Conde claimed they have already conducted a report.

"[T]here were over 50 people in that room that felt blindsided by Terrance [Alan] putting forth a vote with conditions when what he published to the members was a yes or no vote only," Asten Bennett told Hoodline. "I do not believe that anyone in the room believed that if they voted no on the proposal that was put forth with conditions that he would actually call for a second yes or no vote."

"A few times during discussion he made the comment 'I can just end this meeting now'," added Asten Bennett. "My negations with Brian Springfield who made the motion on Terrance's' behalf was in the effort to create a reasonable compromise."

Hoodline reached out to Supervisor Mandelman's office for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Update 4:30 p.m.: "The merchants’ feedback is important, and I think their support (even conditional) for the project will be significant for APE moving forward," Mandelman told Hoodline. "I and my office continue to work with APE, community stakeholders, and the Mayor’s office to try to address as many reasonable concerns about the project as we can.

"We have not had the opportunity to review the report, nor do we have any details about it," added Mandelman.

When asked about the economic impact reporter, APE spokesperson David Perry tells Hoodline "the data is being compiled and will be delivered to Supervisor Mandelman's office in the next few weeks." "At such time, the release of that data is the purview of the Supervisor's office."

Perry shared that the economic impact report will be similar to Chicago Loop Alliance's 2019 'Arts in the Loop Economic Impact Study.'

Economic Impact Report estimates using readily available data. | Image: NIVA


The economic impact report, generated by the National Independent Venue Association calculator asks three questions - regional population, venue capacity, and annual patrons.

"We will apply these tools to the Castro and prepare a report for the Supervisor," added Perry.

"We are in contact with [Mandelman's] office to provide him support and follow up so that our membership can be informed of the progress," said Alan.

"My goal as CMA president is to provide real economic data to our members on the impact that an APE-managed Castro Theater will have on the business community, which is hurting from COVID repercussions, inflation pressure, interest hikes, and stagnant tourism," added Alan.

"Personally, not as president,  I want guarantees that the community will continue to have fair access to the theater for the 356 'days' that APE will not program events and the nearly 200 'nights' the theater will be dark," said Alan. "[A]nd why APE continues to stonewall negotiations with the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, formed to ensure that historic culture isn’t completely erased by changes to the neighborhood fabric over which we have influence."

Hoodline readers will recall this conditional approval comes after the Castro Merchants declined last fall to sign a letter in support of APE's proposed changes to the 100-year-old Castro Theatre.

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Despite conditional approval, Perry wrote in a statement that "Castro Merchants vote to fully support Another Planet Entertainment in their plans to renovate, restore and revitalize the Castro Theatre including their plan for adaptable seating." "Another Planet commits to continue its good faith efforts to work with Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s office including offering details of the economic impact of their operation of the theatre."

"Thank you to all the small businesses in the Castro and the Castro Merchants," added Perry. "We are honored by your faith and look forward to restoring the Castro Theatre to its historic architectural glory and its historic place within the cultural life of the city including vibrant offerings for the film and LBGTQ+ communities."

In response to the vote, CQCD co-chair Stephen Torres told Hoodline that the CQCD "supports all coalition members, including the Castro Merchants Association, as they seek to hold APE accountable as stewards of our beloved Castro Theatre and it is more than valid to ask for the kind of data an economic impact report would provide before pledging full support."

"As we have in our own communications with APE, we reiterate the urgency and gravity that Supervisor Mandelman and the Land Use and Transportation Committee conveyed to APE this week and look forward to verifiable facts and enforceable commitments to this vulnerable community already made more vulnerable by their continued lack of investment, activation, and programming," added Torres.

It's been over a year since APE has taken over the programming of the Castro Theatre, while ownership remains with the Nasser family and Bay Properties Inc.

APE has proposed much-needed renovations of the neglected Castro Theatre, along with removing the orchestra-level seating and replacing them with four-tiered sections of platforms with removable seats.

The latest rendering of the proposed seating floor plan. | Image: Castro Theatre


In January, APE released new renderings of its proposed changes to the seating, which includes a motorized raked floor. Last month, APE released a summary of its community benefits package. Hoodline took a tour of the Castro Theatre in March which included prototypes of the proposed chairs.

APE states that it "pledges that 33% of programming at the theatre will be devoted to film screenings and film festivals." APE previously told the San Francisco Chronicle that it intends to host 175 events per year — leaving the theater dark for approximately 190 days.

Last week the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (Castro CBD) circulated a petition amongst Castro area merchants in support of APE's plans.

At Monday's hearing, Castro CBD treasurer Ralph Hibbs stated over 100 businesses had signed on. Hibbs and Castro CBD executive director Andrea Aiello declined to provide Hoodline with a full list of supporters.

In part, the petition states, "We, the undersigned, support Another Planet Entertainment’s proposal to restore the historic Castro Theatre. Another Planet is committing $15M to restore the historic theatre back to its original glory."

"The petition gives a voice to business owners who are not able to spend hours attending public hearings," Hibbs told Hoodline. "The petition signatures were collected only to present at hearings."

In response to the petition, Alan told the Bay Area Reporter, "I want a process that is voted on by the members in the open member meeting we just had. I am disappointed the CBD joined Another Planet in jumping the gun by distributing the petition to merchants that was not worded carefully."