Inner Mission, formerly CELLSpace, is one of the buildings that could be demolished if large-scale housing project approved. Photo by Guadalupe González.

If a new building project slated for Bryant and 18th Street is approved by the Planning Department, the largest housing development to come to the Mission yet could bring 276 rental units, including 44 below-market-rate ones. But a plan of that scale comes at a cost — the project would require the demolition of most of a city block.

The city block in question represents a particularly diverse cross-section of longtime neighborhood institutions and businesses. Buildings that currently house the art space formerly called CELLspace (now Inner Mission), the Mexican restaurant Flats Cafe, a landscape design studio, an auto-garage, a metal working shop, American Conservatory Theater’s prop warehouse, a brand new film studio and at least four apartments would all be gone should the project go through.

The San Francisco-based Nick Podell Company is the developer behind this project. Podell, who has been building apartment buildings for 30 years, said he’s been wanting to build apartments of this scale in San Francisco his entire career — his company’s work has mainly been in surrounding Bay Area cities.

“Frankly, I’m an apartment builder and I’ve been dying to do one in the neighborhood for years…when the city rezoned this site for high density housing, I jumped on it,” Podell said, referring to the Eastern Neighborhood Plan. “I hope it’s a great building…I take my job of adding to the built environment very seriously. I like to do unique work.”

For the block’s current tenants, most of whom have leases expiring before the end of the year, no building plan, no matter how unique, can ease the sting of displacement.

“I’m furious we’re being pushed out,” said Gary Siegel, the owner of the San Francisco Auto Repair Center which has been in business on the block for 36 years. “I’m looking for another location, but chances are we’re not going to find anything in this neighborhood.”

Big, Preliminary Plans

The site of the potential project sits on 18th Street between Bryant and Florida and stretches three quarters of the way down the block towards 19th Street. Podell said that the six-story apartment complex, containing a mix of one and two-bedroom units as well as studios, will be split between two buildings with an inner courtyard.

Podell also said that 100 percent of the units will be for rent and not condos. To comply with the city’s inclusionary housing law, Podell plans to allot 44 of the 276 units to on-site affordable housing.

“I’m in the business of renting units,” Podell said, explaining that none of the units will be condos. “Rental units are great long-term investments.”

Though Podell said he doesn’t yet have any preliminary designs to show the public, he said the architect Richard Beard of BAR Architects is on board to design the new buildings.

“He’s got a great touch,” Podell said of Beard’s work, whose firm’s previous projects have included 38 Dolores. “I hope to do fun, unique architectural ornamentation, but we’re still working on it.”

In addition to the 282,906 square-feet of residential units, Podell’s current plan also includes a garage, 4,300 square-feet of ground-floor retail space, and 22,189 square-feet of open space with an inner courtyard and balconies.

In terms of what might go into that ground-floor retail space, Podell said it’s a long way off before having to make that determination, but he “wants something good for the project.” He plans on talking to merchant groups like Calle 24 about the idea of having a marketplace of several businesses.

“It will not be formula retail,” Podell said. “I’m from here, I know better.”

Parties on the Block

Close-up of street art on Inner Mission’s exterior.

Since the founding of CELLspace in 1995, the 2000 block of Bryant Street has been a destination for artists and revelers seeking a slightly underground place for electronic music parties. Murals, wheat-pastes and subversive stencils cover the exterior of the large warehouse space, which also contains prop storage of the American Conservatory Theater and the metal shop Production Specialists.

Much of that activity at CELLspace was unregulated and not properly permitted, prompting the art space’s landlord not to renew their lease in 2012. When Eric Reid and his partner Mike Gaines, longtime members of CELLspace’s community, took over the business and renamed it Inner Mission they wanted to give the institution legitimacy — bringing it up to building code, making it a nonprofit and getting proper permits for throwing parties and events.

In March of 2013, the day after Reid and Gaines appeared at a successful meeting with the Entertainment Commission and the Police Department to make Inner Mission a viable, completely legal community event space, they received some surprising news from their landlord Lloyd Klein. He had sold the building and their month-to-month lease would not be renewed.

“We had just received a blessing from the Police and Fire Department and the very next day, our landlord said: ‘Sorry guys,’” said Reid, who also explained that he and his partner had spent $70,000 of their own money renovating the space to bring it up to code.

Reid believes the parcel of block that included Inner Mission sold for $17 million, but Podell would not confirm the sales price, saying the sale has yet to be completely finalized, which he says will be closed in September. The proposed site of the project sits on two large parcels that have been owned by the same two landlords for many years, John Handa and Lloyd Klein.

Under their new landlord, Reid and Gaines were granted a year-long lease that ends in September of this year. Once they found out the building was being sold, they halted their renovation projects but continued to provide rehearsal and event space for various community groups, including the Aztec Dancers and SF Roller Disco. Reid said that Inner Mission is still open for these event. On a recent afternoon, a Burning Man Leadership Conference held an event there.

Inner Mission also rents out a large studio space that is the home and workplace of five artists. They’re still there for now, paying a rent-controlled rate of between $600 to $700. Reid fears they’re unlikely to find anywhere nearly as affordable.

“We’re looking for a new space, and trying to find ways to fund it,” Reid said. “That $70,000 we spent is gone and never coming back but we’re trying to figure out how to continue our mission of creating an arts space that is a model for community.”

Down the block from Inner Mission, owners of the film and audio production studio Earwurm Studios have a similar story. The tenants there had spent thousands of dollars converting the small office space into production studios for filmmakers to rent. Just as they were nearing completion of their renovations, they got word the building would be sold. Like Inner Mission, their lease expires later this year.

“We’ve continued operations for the last couple of months, but now we’ve been slowly tearing it down,” said Earwurm’s general manager Israel Luna, as he worked to clean out the now-vacant studio. “It sucks that this happened.”

On the other side of the block on Florida Street, Gary Siegel, owner of San Franciso Auto Repair Center, said he’s not going anywhere yet and that he’ll be running his garage until the very last day of his lease, which lasts until December of 2014. But he’s worried about the fate of his nine employees.

“My employees aren’t doing minimum wage jobs, they are middle-class employees. What’s going to happen to those jobs and this city when service businesses like mine are pushed out?” asked Siegel, who thinks that there won’t be opportunities for businesses like his in the retail space planned for the property. “I wish he would build a space for me, but I doubt it.”

Just the Beginning

In its initial review of the project, issued February 28th, the Planning Department offered some guidance as to what should go into the ground-floor retail spaces.

“For many years, the project site has been a significant venue for community art and cultural events. The Mission Area Plan places a high value on such spaces as an essential part of the area’s character and identity,” the review states. “The Department encourages the Project Sponsor to consider incorporating a sizeable community arts space or PDR [Production, Distribution, and Repair] space to support the continued presence of creative activity at this location.”

In terms of the likelihood of an arts space like Inner Mission being incorporated into the project’s future, Podell said, “It’s not very likely.”

“My job is to make a good building… I’m going to do everything I can with the building’s architecture to create art,” Podell said. “The retail space comes secondary to housing.”

The Planning Department’s review also recommends that a project of this scale undergo a process of community feedback. Podell stressed that this is just the beginning of the conversation and that he has only just begun the outreach effort, which he said will be extensive and include a community meeting about the project in May.

“I doubt this is the last conversation you and I will have,” Podell said.

For the longtime tenants of block, there’s a lot still to say.

Gary Siegel believes the neighborhood isn’t going to let the plan go forward quietly and it would fight Podell on the proposed height of the building.

Eric Reid of Inner Mission is more sanguine.

“We’re living in an interesting time where we have this clash of cultures with developers coming in and providing space for housing, which is sorely needed,” Reid said. “But these people who have lived here and made the city attractive are being pushed out…We can’t stop development and progress from happening, but it can’t come at the expense of people living here for so long.”

Update: A Mission Local reader sent us the preliminary project plans of this development. You can view them here

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. So now they are destroying blocks. Displacing business’s losing jobs and other residents that have been here for years. Why not find an empty lot! I know they will have a hard time to demolish existing units.

  2. The mission is beginning to feel like the suburbs. Everything is just empty houses, and condos. The people who lived here made it a home, have a community, those who grew up here come back and still contribute to the community. Now it’s losing character as they want to build housing for other people but don’t mind ousting the ones who already live there and have been there for many years. Such a shame.

  3. If the design is anything like 38 Dolores, supply might technically increase, but I think we’ll still see a premium placed on the kinds of apartments a lot of rent-controlled folks currently live in: 1 – 3 bedroom duplexes in pre-war Victorian homes. They’re just more desireable. Renovations & turnover won’t slow down as landlords will still have a healthy market for upgraded units with sidewalk frontage. Big box complexes like this just don’t have the same character.

  4. Wow!
    Camulet goes chapter 7, and (cell space ) Inner Mission is closing. Very sad.
    As a neighbor for 25 years the area has changed alot. And kinda feel that units are being dumped into this neighborhood.
    Why is growth so important anyway. At what point does it stop. Affordable housing is really not very affordable, many locals would never even qualify with the jobs they have.

    This has the feeling of a boon dongle. This might take a decade to complete, unless the comments of ” about time” are the norm now. In which case it will feel like the Bryant street project, between 19th & 20, that had a 40 foot deep hole in the ground for years after all were evicted and left. Still feels strange and isolated other that the gridlock of parking that have taken over the neighborhood.

    Be carful what you wish for.

    Good luck with that.

  5. This is indeed a tragic thing as I’ve been going to cellspace since 1998 and entered my first breakdance battle here and trainned along with other world famous hip-hop dancers here, yet this has motivated me to host a final celebration on august 30th celebrating,community,dance and cellspace. Cellspace has been a beacon to me and other artist/dancers which in turn exposed me up to the dance community here in SF specifically hip-hop,breaking,popping,locking and culture. I dont see color only community so I ask that people come out and get exposed to this event.

  6. Due to the extremely historical significance of the existing buildings, Mr. Podell would have a much better time cooperating with the community.

    We can and unfortunately will most likely will, make his life extremely difficult.

  7. Socketsite published the architectural plans for the development yesterday. The warehouse building looks pretty cool.

  8. People around this area have been talking about this for a very long time. This is a done deal. Also, Tartine bakery will be moving in the same building as Heath. This whole area will be tech offices, expensive shops and foodies. Artists, Latinos and whats left of the working class will be removed. All promoted by the policies of an indifferent City Hall beholden to Republican developers and techies.

    1. I agree with you, except for blaming it all on GOPers.

      The only difference between Dems and GOPers today is that the former support reproductive rights and gay marriage, and the latter don’t. That’s basically it.

      Both parties are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Wall St. By getting you and most Americans to buy into tribal identity politics based on hot-button social issues, they keep the real issues from being addressed.

      Today’s Democrats will screw you just as badly as the GOpers, and in many ways, worse.

  9. I’m sure it wouldn’t be feasible structurally, but its a bummer the additional units couldn’t just be added to the tops of the existing structures (like the residential units above where Local Mission Market is on Harrison). And, I’m hoping Podell is able to stick to his commitment to build something interesting and not another cookie-cutting “modern” structure (like the apartments next door to Local Mission Market and pretty much everywhere else..) that will just look horribly dated in 10 years.

  10. More culturecide and job loss courtesy of the tech bubble.

    “‘It will not be formula retail,’ Podell said. ‘I’m from here, I know better.’

    And yet he has 38 Dolores in his portfolio. Yikes, what a sun-blocking monstrosity of formula retail!

  11. Fix it request- why isn’t my name/email saved automatically? Every time I comment I have to input that. Wasn’t like that before. Can u fix this? Thx.

    1. We will see what we can do. We switched hosts and there have been some glitches. BEst, Lydia

  12. There is so much bs in this piece of mission l@co I just don’t know where to begin. But the most telling thing is the utter passivity of it. In other words, its a done deal. Everyone interviewed here is paid off and leaving. Its a pose. Like this website.

  13. Crap then what’s next the old calumet building? Too bad. I guess I sold out just in time I lived on Florida street at 21st for the past 23 years and just moved to seattle where my new home is a quarter the price of what I sold for. I loved the inner mission but it’s losing its soul.

    1. @CRS what gives you the idea that Calle 24 is really just one guy? I am a member, and know several members of Calle 24. Several merchants on the street also are also members. Guess you’ve never been to one of their events like hanging lights in the trees during the holidays, or the Cesar Chavez festival, or a fundraiser.

    2. @CRS – Not sure where your info comes from. There are many members and supporters of Calle 24.
      Including myself.

  14. It seems like maybe the existing tenants should have some sort of priority in the new building, perhaps? Seems like that would be good PR, if nothing else. At least a thought in that direction…

    1. I agree. All the residents being displaced should get first crack at those BMR units.

      Also, I would love if the mural could be preserved somehow! Either carried off site or used as a wall in the new structure…

  15. This is an interesting dilemma. I support more housing. I support more rental units. I wish, I wish, I wish, there were more affordable units.
    I have gone to Cell Space often. And loved it and the community that was there.
    Also: Thank you Mission Local for your new, and very reasonable comments policy.

    1. This developer is just putting in the minimum requirement of BMRs.
      As a BMR owner, the BMR program needs to be improved, enhanced and expanded. It is the kind of opportunity that those of us who are the true middle class need. The folks I know in BMRs work in healthcare, teach, or are non-profit employees, have kids and send them to public school. No one I know is struggling to pay the total costs.

      John, the BMR program is funded by local, state, and federal funds. No volunteer benefactors are needed. Furthermore, this guy building rentals so there are no closing costs or HOA fees that would be an additional cost. Even so as BMR owners, though we pay the same high HOA fees as everyone els, combined with our mortgage, we can actually pay a reasonable housing cost and raise our children. In fact, the BMR program has allowed us to put down roots in the city and work towards enhancing our earning power and pay for the basic things we need. It takes the edge off for us and other middle class/ working folks who are an important part of the fabric of the city.

      1. MsB,

        The City’s “BMR” (Below Market Rate) program is not funded by any “local, state or federal funds”.

        On-site BMR dwelling units, in a private development such as this one, are provided by the developer to meet City requirements per the Planning Code.

        During the developer’s proforma process it is factored into the price that he/she is willing to pay for the land and, ultimately, the non-BMR units (i.e. market-rate units) subsidize the BMR units.

        Not a cent of “local, state or federal funds” go into this kind of entirely private development.

  16. I really am amazed that this building can’t be built on some empty lot somewhere, so that viable businesses that add substance to the social fabric of the city could continue to serve us all and employ people in something other than retail, banking, and the tech industry. Do we really want San Francisco to become a bedroom community, acting as a dense suburb to Silicon Valley? I hope the project doesn’t get through the permitting process.

      1. Hunters Point, a former large Navy base, was given to the city of San Francisco in the late 90’s, and at the time there was big talk of “a new neighborhood”.

        It is prime waterfront property, and there is room there for tens of thousands of apartments. For some bizarre reason, only a handful of low-density suburban-style homes are being built there.

        There is your empty lot… 638 acres.

        We don’t need to be destroying existing city fabric when so much empty space is available.

        1. Nutristystem, Hunter’s Point is highly toxic. It will be a fortune to clean it up to liveable standards.

          1. Yeah, so typical of the military to commandeer valuable urban real estate for decades, recklessly contaminating it with deadly toxic waste (as on Treasure Island). They then abandon it to the local community as a gutted eyesore that will require a huge long-term investment just to make it safe for human habitation. Murderous filthy parasites wreaking nothing but death and ruin.

          2. I would not recommend eating more than a cup of Hunters point soil per week, or drinking the ground water.

            But if you live above ground there, you’ll be OK.

            The squandering of this 638 acres of prime space in the most overheated real estate market in the US is most curious. And I don’t buy the toxics excuse for a second.

            SOMA has just as much pollution in the soil from a hundred years of unregulated industry, and nobody seems concerned.

        2. The place you suggest in Hunter’s Point is full or radioactive material and carcinogens. I wouldn’t live there for all the money in the world Check out the breast cancer rates of Bayview compared to the rest of the city.

  17. I would also be sorry to see this area changed. I just walked there on my way from SFGH to get some coffee. If this were being constructed by the city for affordable housing, I would be less resistant. But it’s about one man who will make a shitload of money, change the face of the block, and bring a lot more white, wealthy people into the mission.

    1. Wow……think the guy’s helping make the neighborhood even better…and he will be rewarded for his trouble if it goes well by risking his money doing it. He should probably help the auto repair find another place and maybe the former landlord should throw some dough to the folks that invested their own money in their spaces.

  18. This looks like a great addition to the neighborhood and includes lots of affordable housing. Please build it soon.

    1. No, it wouldn’t be a great addition to the neighborhood if places that make the neighborhood great are being pushed out. It’s not a wasteland by any means. Besides, I thought the yuppies liked the, “grittiness” of The Mission. Ha.

      1. For Efff’s sake, Blexxxxch! I am a VERY small landlord in the mission (one 3 BDR unit). It behooves me to have demand far outstrip supply as I make more money that way. That said, the Mission has become crazy and I want people to be able to live in the damn neighbourhood that I love! The more units that are on the market, the more reasonable the rent is going to be. Build more apartments that are rentals and lets keep the damn neighbourhood! 44 units of affordable housing are going to be included in the 276 that are to be built, and this is a MASSIVE win for everyone!

        1. So the Eastern Neighborhoods plan was just a hoax.

          The plan was supposed to protect these exact types of small businesses: craftsmen, artisans, repair, artists, and other types of work that can’t be done in office buildings.

          This is a big fuck you to blue-collar workers and artisans. Lied to, once again.

          1. It was not like this should be a surprise to anyone who was watching Eastern Neighborhoods as it lurched towards conclusion. The Planning Department did a bang up job tapping Eric Quezada as the designated stakeholder for the neighborhood as the late EQ (RIP) achieved lifetime status as the anti-organizer by ensuring that the rest of the designated stakeholders were united in organization against him and by extension the vast majority of unorganized Mission residents.

          2. So argue about maintaining space for existing …”exact types of small businesses: craftsmen, artisans, repair, artists, and other types of work that can’t be done in office buildings.”

            You’d be surprised by how many on this board would support that while STILL building more housing with a substantive amount of that being affordable.

            This is common ground that could benefit all. Seize it.

        2. We’d need a helluva lot more than 44 affordable units to bring rents down. Build to the heavens, but only an earthquake will set things right.

          1. I think it is a myth that a quake will make things better. It will likely make things much worse for those with less money by restricting supply even more and destroying rent controlled units

          2. Yes, Zig, in the 1989 quake even home owners and landlords with no quake insurance did OK. They got low-interest loans from the Federal government to rebuild, and ended up with more valuable and modern properties with better seismic protection for the future.

            Tenants, on the other hand, often lost their rent-controlled units and never got them back again.

            So hoping and praying for an earthquake is dumb and naive. It’s also extremely ugly and distasteful to wish death and destruction on your neighbors and community.

          3. Yeah, it won’t bring down rents but it will house a lot of people who want to live in the Mission, quite a few who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. That seems a very good thing, no?

  19. Oh the comments are gonna be good on this one! *drools*

    “WE WANT MORE HOUSING!!! Oh wait, but it can’t be in *this* spot!”

    1. Maybe so but their leases are all up anyway and, as commercial tenants, they have no legal right to stay beyond that.

      That block is something of a wasteland and I think we need more homes more than we need a mish-mash of quasi-commercial entities.

      The key factor here surely is that there are few or no residential tenants there. Looks good to me.

      1. WHy is it all about residential? Shouldn’t PDR have a place? People work too, not just live in SF, Business pay taxes and provide many other benefits. Do you only want restaurants and nail salons?