Online Extra: Political Notes: Work to begin on SF leather plaza

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An artist rendering of Eagle Plaza looks north along 12th Street toward Bernice Street. Photo: Courtesy Build Inc./Place Lab
An artist rendering of Eagle Plaza looks north along 12th Street toward Bernice Street. Photo: Courtesy Build Inc./Place Lab   

San Francisco officials and LGBT community leaders will gather June 18 to mark the start of construction on the world's first leather-themed public plaza.

Mayor London Breed is expected to join parks proponents and residents of the city's South of Market district at 11:30 a.m. that Tuesday to break ground on Eagle Plaza. The public parklet will honor San Francisco's LGBT and leather communities that have long called SOMA home.

Named after the gay-owned bar it will front on a portion of 12th Street, Eagle Plaza is seen as a focal point for the LGBTQ cultural heritage district city officials created in western SOMA. First conceived in 2014, the plaza project had languished in the city's bureaucratic process due to the need to take over a city street.

As the Bay Area Reporter reported in January, Breed's office had stepped in to expedite the permit process in hopes of seeing Eagle Plaza open in time for this year's Folsom Street Fair, which is held annually the last Sunday in September and takes place September 29 this fall.

Breed had signed off on the street encroachment permit for the plaza February 15. But due to further delays in finalizing the permits from city agencies, the plaza will not be completed until sometime in November or December.

"Unfortunately, the plaza construction will extend past the Folsom Street Fair date. We are projecting a five-six month construction period," Carlos Vasquez, a project manager with local development firm Build Inc., told the B.A.R. Friday (June7).

Build is overseeing construction of the plaza as part of a $1.5 million in-kind agreement with the city for approval of its mixed-use development across the street from the Eagle bar on what was a surface parking lot. Construction began last summer at 1532 Harrison Street on three seven-story buildings consisting of 136 rental homes.

Place Lab, started by Build and now part of the nonprofit San Francisco Parks Alliance, oversaw the design of, and permits for, Eagle Plaza. It will be approximately 12,500 square feet in size and reimagine the block of 12th Street between Harrison and Bernice streets.

At the request of public safety officials, the street will remain open to vehicular traffic in both directions via a curving, 28-foot-wide two-lane roadway through the plaza. Bollards will be used to close off the street at both ends for special events.

"It has been a long road full of participation of the community. I feel it is going to be a wonderful installation that a lot of people were not believing this would come true," said Alex Montiel, an owner of the Eagle bar who was a member of the Friends of Eagle Plaza group supporting the project. "Now that all permits have been approved and the mayor is going to join us at the groundbreaking ceremony, we feel that the new change is coming. Our leather culture will finally have the recognition it deserves with this monument to the community."

The groundbreaking will be bittersweet, however, coming after the unexpected death last month of Mike Leon, who co-owned the Eagle bar and also was a main advocate for the plaza. His name is expected to be included along with other leaders of the plaza friends group in signage or a plaque to be installed near a flagpole that will fly the leather flag, said Montiel.

"It has been an endeavor we both started together," he said. "It is really heartfelt that he is not with us to see this, his legacy and work we put together come to fruition and become a reality."

The Eagle bar's flagpole sporting the leather flag was to be relocated into one of the new plaza's planting areas. But Montiel said a new, taller flagpole will be added to the parklet that will fly the leather flag. Sidewalks at both entrances into the plaza will sport the colors of the leather flag, which features a red heart and blue, black, and white stripes.

As for the Eagle's flagpole, it may be relocated within its outdoor patio space this year as the bar is undergoing a remodel. When the work is completed, Montiel said he plans to fly both the leather flag and the bar's own flag on the flagpole.

The parklet's estimated cost is $1.85 million. In addition to Build's contribution, the city awarded $200,000 in grant money to the plaza. The Friends of Eagle Plaza has a goal to raise $150,000 for it and had collected $62,000 as of April.

For more information about the plaza, and to make a donation online, visit http://www.eagleplaza.org/.


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com.

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