Mexican Museum – Funds on the Way, an Eviction Notice Too

By ARMAND EMAMDJOMEH and LYDIA CHÁVEZ

Just as the Mexican Museum is on the verge of a new round of funding to regroup and begin another capital campaign for a long awaited home of its own, Fort Mason Center said it wants the museum out when the lease expires in September.

The Redevelopment Agency meets today to vote on releasing $250,000 so the museum can hire staff and consultants to “prepare and commence implementation of a pre-development plan” for a permanent space downtown in the Yerba Buena Redevelopment Project.

The completion of the Mexican Museum in the final piece of redevelopment land  on the north side of Mission Street between Third and Fourth streets would end a journey that began in 1975. That year, Peter Rodriguez opened the museum in two rooms on Folsom Street in the Mission District. Since then, it has amassed a world-class collection of more than 12,000 objects spanning pre-Conquest Mexico to the Chicano Art of Mexican Americans.

Amy Neches, the project manager for Yerba Buena, said she expected the $250,000 to be approved and the project to move forward. The funds will be managed by the San Francisco Arts Commission and paid out to the Mexican Museum in installments.

Once planned as a stand-alone structure, the Agency now envisions the museum as part of a mixed-use development that includes a residential tower and incorporates the historic Mercantile Building.

Those plans, however, are still very much in the future and more immediately the museum must move from the Fort Mason location it has leased since 1982, according to Pat. S. Kilduff, the director of marketing for Fort Mason.

Kilduff said that regardless of what the Redevelopment Agency does Tuesday, Fort Mason will terminate its relationship with the museum.

The board, she said, owes back rent of $250,000 and has not put on public programming as promised. “It’s time for a fresh start” for all the parties concerned, she said.

When asked about the vacancies at Fort Mason, Kilduff replied in an e-mail, “we have square footage available and are looking for non-profit organizations which meet the requirements of residency and are interested in locating at Fort Mason Center.”

Earlier in a phone conversation, Kilduff said that an active public program is one of the main requirements to lease at Fort Mason.

Eli Aramburo, chair of the advisory board for the Mexican Museum, wrote in an e-mail that she wants Fort Mason “to negotiate a new one-year lease with the Mexican Museum.”

Aramburo said the museum was current on the rent and the board wanted to pay on arrears at the rate of $25,000 a quarter or $100,000 a year. She said the museum closed in 2006 because it lacked funds for staff,  but has opened its doors to curators and researchers. In addition in continues its arts education program.

The museum has paid $56,000 toward the arrears since January and owes approximately $220,000, according to Aramburo.

The co-chairs Mario Diaz and Nora Wagner could not be reached for comment.

The museum is in the midst of planning for a September exhibition in Palo Alto that is being paid for by a private donor.

Supervisor David Campos, whose District 9 includes the largely Latino communities of the Mission District, Bernal Heights and Portola, said the museum’s board and city officials shared responsibility for the delays and the problems at Fort Mason.

“There were some things they definitely should have done better,” he said. “But the bottom line is that I do believe that if the city had more of a commitment to that project, the museum would not have to move out,” of its current location at Fort Mason, “I think it’s unfortunate that that happened.”

“My main priority with the Mexican Museum is that it be built,” said Campos. “The city in my opinion hasn’t done enough to make that happen.”

“We’re going to keep pushing” the Mexican Museum issue, Campos said. “That’s something that San Francisco has to do and it’s something that the Latino community and … a lot of communities are waiting for.”

The mixed-use development at Yerba Buena has a number of hurdles to scale before breaking ground. Those include a weak economy and differences over the appropriateness of a residential tower above the museum.

Fred Blackwell, the Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency, wrote in a letter that the height and bulk of the project would have to be guided by the Planning Department. “Because there is concern about the project’s potential contribution to new shadows on Union Square, this early design feedback will help define a realistic development envelope,” Blackwell wrote.

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