June 26, 2019

San Francisco's The Lab Fights to Save Historic Building from Private Developers

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—In an effort to ward off private developers and protect existing tenants and subsidized rents, San Francisco arts nonprofit the Lab has launched a campaign to buy the historic Redstone Labor Temple building, a former union meeting hall in which the organization has been housed since 1994.

The Lab’s effort is part of a larger capital campaign by the anti-gentrification organization Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), which has been in a yearlong negotiation to buy the building from its current owner David Lucchesi. In May, MEDA signed a $15 million contract with Lucchesi, which stipulates it must purchase Redstone by August 1 in order to maintain the building as “a center for social and economic justice and the arts.” However, the deal is not guaranteed, and the organization may have to pay an additional $7 million for refurbishment, which will include seismic retrofitting, reports Hyperallergic.

A hundred organizers, artists, and fellow tenants, including members of El/La Para Translatinas, Western Regional Advocacy Project, SF Living Wage Coalition, and other grassroots organizations, rallied at San Francisco’s city hall last Thursday. The Lab is asking the city to subsidize its purchase of its part of Redstone, worth an estimated $2 million; the nonprofit has also launched a Kickstarter campaign and so far has reached $42,640 of its $50,000 goal.

It is rumored that WeWork has made a $21 million offer for the former union meeting hall, which is situated in the highly desirable Mission District. An aide for supervisor Hillary Ronen, a representative for San Francisco’s District 8, reportedly put forward a resolution requesting city funding to help MEDA purchase the building.

“The idea is to ask the city to start purchasing public space before it all disappears,” the Lab wrote in a statement. “As we face down speculators who want to buy up historic landmarks like the Redstone Labor Temple and turn public space into private, corporate space, we need our city and our community to insist on separating social good organizations from the rent-seeking commercial sector. Over the past five years, 52 percent of San Francisco’s nonprofit art organizations, along with untold numbers of artists, have been forced to leave the city due to skyrocketing rents.”

The Lab, which was founded in 1984, gives select artists $25,000 to $100,000 grants each year, in addition to hosting art and sound installations, performances, film screenings, and other programming and collaborating on projects with artists such as Dodie Bellamy, Bruce Conner, Nan Goldin, Juliana Huxtable, Mike Kelley, Lydia Lunch, Roscoe Mitchell, Charlemagne Palestine, Jack Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and David Wojnarowicz. Twelve thousand people visit the arts space each year.

“We are asking the city to try to see the public interest in keeping [the Redstone] in community hands,” the Lab’s director, Dena Beard, told Hyperallergic. “There’s nowhere else for us to go in San Francisco, sadly.”

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