City says APE still has millions in work to do on SF auditorium

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday April 19, 2023
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The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco is managed by Another Planet Entertainment. Photo: BGCA Facebook page<br>
The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco is managed by Another Planet Entertainment. Photo: BGCA Facebook page

An email from the San Francisco Real Estate Division to the City Administrator's office shows that as of last October, Another Planet Entertainment still has $4 million in improvements to do to a venue at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which it manages through a lease from the city.

The email, from Claudia Gorham, deputy managing director in the real estate department, summarizes work APE has done on the building since it signed its original lease with the city in 2010. All told, APE was contractually obligated to put out about $9.4 million toward capital improvements within 10 years of the original lease.

That was just for the auditorium, not the smaller Polk Hall venue that is located within the building for which Another Planet has proposed spending $4 million for improvements. Another Planet spokesperson David Perry told the Bay Area Reporter Wednesday that the company applied for the permit last June and just received it last week. Work on the first portion of the project has started, he added.

In her email, Gorham added that various extensions were requested and then given by the former city administrator until January 28, 2014, when "the then-city administrator gave one last extension to commence phase 1 until June 15, 2014, and at the same time the parties commenced discussions on negotiating amendments to the lease," Gorham wrote.

The focus on Another Planet's lease for the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium came up during the April 17 meeting of the Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting on the Castro Theatre, of which Another Planet took over management in January 2022. At issue for the committee was an amendment to an interior landmarking request for the historic movie palace. The committee ultimately voted 2-1 in initial support of District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston's amendment, which would require that the orchestra seating be "fixed" — meaning it could not be altered.

The land use committee will take up the amendment again at its April 24 meeting. The full Board of Supervisors has final approval over the interior landmarking of the theater. The exterior of the Castro Theatre was designated a city landmark in 1977.

Another Planet had favored the Historic Preservation Commission's February recommendation that interior landmarking be more limited and include the "presence of seating" for the orchestra. That would have meant that Another Planet could have installed its motorized device that would be able to switch out theater-like seating for more space for dancing or standing during concerts.

During the hearing, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who sits on the land use committee, admonished Another Planet and said the concert promotion company has not met its obligations at the Bill Graham auditorium.

"I think this behavior over the last 13 years is a reasonable indicator of future behavior," Peskin said at the committee meeting, referring to Another Planet and the Bill Graham auditorium.

Reached Wednesday, Peskin said that Another Planet has received extensions on the auditorium lease for years.

"The record is clear," he said, explaining that in 2017 Another Planet entered into negotiations with the city to amend the contract. In 2018, the contract was amended to give Another Planet five more years to complete the Polk Hall project, Peskin said.

"They got leniency for a decade," Peskin said.

In response Perry, the Another Planet spokesperson, stated in an email April 18 that the company "stands behind and is proud of its work activating and maintaining the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium." He noted that Another Planet has spent about $10.3 million in capital improvements, repairs, and maintenance on the events venue kitty-corner to San Francisco City Hall.

And in fact, Another Planet did spend about $10.25 million on various improvements to the auditorium. These include $3.5 million for main arena improvements; $750,000 to get the freight elevators working; $1 million for the Polk Street passenger elevator replacement; and $1 million for final elevator replacement work, according to Gorham's email.

Gorham did not return a message seeking comment. A spokesperson for the city administrator said the office had nothing to add.

Gorham's email notes that Another Planet spent above the required amount on the elevator work. Another $3.2 million of work had been incurred to date back to 2020, when work ceased due to the COVID pandemic, the email stated.

Polk Hall

Gorham's email details the improvements Another Planet has indicated it would make to Polk Hall, a smaller venue on the main floor of the auditorium. The $4 million in renovations includes $2.2 million for architectural, lighting, mechanical, flooring, and acoustics; $800,000 for bathroom upgrades, including ADA features; $600,000 for back of house — dressing rooms, bathrooms (includes ADA); $120,000 for wayfinding signage; $100,000 for security alarm and camera package; $100,000 for adjacent public areas; and $80,000 for kitchen upgrades.

According to the email, Another Planet originally planned to spend $20-$25 million for Polk Hall, which it said was going to cost too much. The $4 million plan was revised down from Another Planet's architect, which had designed something between $10-$20 million, the email stated.

Gorham's email noted that the real estate division had not approved any plans for Polk Hall as of last October.

"On October 22, 2022, I received an email from APE's VP and they are working on a revised plan — which incorporates a few improvements to Polk Hall but more improvements to the main arena as their plan for a small venue site for Polk Hall was too expensive," she wrote.

Perry stated April 19, "Another Planet applied for a permit for the first portion of the $4M project last June. The permit was issued on April 12 of this year — 5 days ago — and the work has begun."

The Polk Hall portion of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was "handsomely remodeled" in March 1996 when the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium reopened after 20 months of construction that cost $25.8 million. It was seismically retrofitted, allowed wheelchair access to all seating categories, and had upgraded restroom facilities at the time, according to the Friends of BGCA website.

In an April 14 email to Peskin, Gorham pointed out that Another Planet couldn't have done much of the Polk Hall work during COVID. The city utilized the auditorium for emergency workers and for voting. The city had sole use of the building, she noted.

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