Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

New leather-themed public parklet in SF a step closer to 2018 debut

A rendering of the proposed Eagle Plaza on 12th Street as seen from Harrison. Courtesy Build Inc.

A rendering of the proposed Eagle Plaza on 12th Street as seen from Harrison. Courtesy Build Inc.

A new $2 million leather-themed public parklet is one step closer to debuting in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood by 2018.

The city’s planning commission unanimously voted 5-0 at its meeting today (Thursday, February 11) to sign off on turning a block of 12th Street into a pedestrian plaza that would include a lane for vehicular traffic. The open space would be built in front of the gay-owned Eagle bar, whose owners have been vocal backers of the Eagle Plaza that takes its name from their establishment.

“We believe this space is definitely necessary,” said Eagle co-owner Lex Montiel. “Build Inc. has been very thoughtful with the community, not just the LGBT community but the neighbors in general.”

Gay planning commissioner Dennis Richards, who has been a patron of the Eagle bar since 1985, moved to approve the project, noting that it will provide much needed open space to the area.

“You didn’t Disneyfy this, it is very culturally sensitive,” said Richards. “It is incredibly additive not only to the Eagle but Western SOMA.”

The project will next go before the city’s Department of Public Works for final approval of the plan since it is being built on a city street. Planning commissioner Kathrin Moore urged that the oversight body be kept informed if there are any changes to the plaza design as various city agencies review it.

“The devil is in the details,” she said.

The Bay Area Reporter first broke the news about the 13,800 square foot parklet proposal a year ago. The proposal includes two different landscaped seating areas that would be built on 12th Street between Harrison and Bernice.

Several design elements, such as dark, stained concrete, are meant to celebrate SOMA’s ties to both the LGBT and leather communities. The color scheme for the public parklet is derived from the leather pride flag, which features blue, black and white colored stripes and a red heart.

Since the 1950s the neighborhood has been home to a number of gay bars and nightclubs, many catering to the leather scene. Today, most of the remaining LGBT nightlife establishments are centered on or near 11th Street between Folsom and Harrison streets, with the Eagle a block away.

The city has designated that section of western SOMA as part of an LGBTQ cultural heritage district. Backers of the Eagle Plaza contend it could serve as a focal point and main gathering spot for the LGBTQ district.

In September the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizen’s Advisory Committee gave its approval to the plaza plan. Local development firm Build Inc. has proposed paying for construction of the plaza as part of a $1.5 million in-kind agreement with the city related to the construction of its mixed-use development to be built across the street from the Eagle on what is now a surface parking lot at 1532 Harrison Street.

That project won approval in October and consists of a new seven-story 65-foot tall, mixed-use building with 136 dwelling units and about 1,600 square feet of ground floor commercial space that would open out onto the plaza at Harrison.

“This has been an absolute fun process, albeit a long one,” said Michael Yarne, a principal with Build Inc. “It is amazing to take different elements, the need for green space, the need to commemorate a longstanding cultural community the LGBTQ and leather community in Folsom Gulch …. the Eagle Plaza is the manifestation of that.”

With 12th Street being little used by vehicles, Yarne said it was the perfect roadway to be turned into a parklet.

“It is a really little unique piece of Western SOMA. It is the perfect place for this street to plaza conversion,” said Yarne. “It is the perfect place to do something special that does not disrupt traffic in any meaningful way.”

Build Inc. has agreed to pay for all ongoing maintenance, operation and programming of the plaza in perpetuity through the establishment of a Mello Roos District. According to the planning report, the develop is currently targeting the subject development and the development site immediately north, and the Eagle Tavern, as the boundaries for the district, whose members would pay an annual tax specifically for the cost to upkeep the plaza.

The plaza will include a flag pole, estimated to cost $8,500, situated in front of the Eagle bar. It is expected to be used to fly a leather pride flag following the decision in 2012 by the Castro Merchants group to no longer allow the flag to be raised on the flag pole in the gayborhood at the corner of Castro and Market Streets.

The decision came after complaints from some local activists who wanted to see the rainbow flag that flies from the flagpole in Harvey Milk Plaza lowered at various times to honor people who have died or during special events. In response, the merchants decided to institute a policy that banned ever lowering the rainbow flag or replacing it with other LGBT-related flags.

One of the activists involved in that fight, Michael Petrelis, wrote to the planning commission ahead of today’s hearing to inquire who would control the Eagle Plaza flag.

“I’m requesting that the developer, with whom I have left vmail, forthwith present written guidance as to how flagpole control issues will be processed, once the Eagle Plaza is created and operational for public use,” wrote Petrelis.

But the issue was not addressed during the hearing today, which saw no one speak out against the creation of the plaza. City planner Mat Snyder noted that the planning department is requiring that Eagle Plaza be part of the city’s public plaza program and would seek a nonprofit to be responsible for the operation and activation of the parklet.

— Matthew S. Bajko, February 11, 2016 @ 3:58 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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