A group of 73 Mission District artists face losing their shared workspace in the Redlick Building at 17th and Mission this June when the building’s landlord says he will not renew the master tenant’s lease. The space, dubbed Studio 17, is in the building famous for the historic “17 Reasons Why” advertisement. It has been studio to scores of painters, multimedia artists, sculptures, photographers, and more since 2003.
“Ultimately we have no god given right to stay in a commercial space when the perceived market value has well surpassed our resources,” said Robert Donald who is the space’s master tenant and manages Studio 17. He shared his side of the story through a series of emails sent in the busy few days of preparation before this weekend’s Open Studios, running Saturday and Sunday.
Donald, who is also a painter and photographer, says the building’s owner, Rick Holman, has been avoiding communication and won’t give Studio 17 a straight answer about their future, but the owner wrote Mission Local in an e-mail that the lease will not be renewed.
Holman, who bought the building in 2013, sees Studio 17 differently than a group of Mission District artists. Donald, Holman wrote, is not exclusively renting the 20,000 square foot space on the fourth floor of 17th and Mission to artists, but to a mixture of entrepreneurs, tech start-ups, and other businesses.
“’Studio 17 Artists’ is a 100% owned business of Robert Donald; basically a dba. It is not an artist cooperative,” said Holman.
Holman says he plans to continue renting out the space to artists below market rate, but will not be renewing Donald’s lease. He wrote:
We are going to DIRECTLY lease the space ONLY to artists (not entrepreneurs, tech companies and other business as Robert Donald has been doing) at a substantial discount to the market.
“This is news to us,” said Donald to this response from his landlord. “I have never heard this before and will be sure to let the rest of Studio 17 know that Holman expressed this. If this was the case, why hasn’t Holman communicated this, to me or the various different artists in the building who have approached him about the topic?”
Donald also says the building’s realtor is asking for anything but a substantial discounted rate. The space is going for around $70,000, roughly three times what he currently pays for the 20,000 square foot space. From all the artists’ rents, he does collect about $8,600 more a month than the total space’s rent.
“I assume Robert makes a profit from all the rentals he manages, as he should,” wrote Studio 17 artist Marie Bourget in an email to Mission Local. “Why else would he work so hard to keep spaces rented, collect rents, manage the common areas, promote Studio 17?”
While Studio 17’s own website does list a few digital brand designers and media startups, the overwhelming majority of subtenants are a collection of painters, photographers, and sculptors. Several have had shown work at museums throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
“As the leaseholder of this endeavor I have always made it my priority to support the artists within the space, my decisions are based on those commitments,” said Donald. “We’re a community. We’re an incubator for artists and creatives. We provide each other with support and inspiration.”
Besides preserving the cultural heritage of the Mission District, the question of whether artists can stay in the space may also be a zoning one. In 2003, the Planning Commission granted a previous arts space a conditional use permit that would require the building to dedicate 10,000 square feet to artist workspaces.
Holman says he’s “committed to continuing to provide space to artists at below market rates.” He has renewed the leases of two other artist studios within the building.
But Donald says Holman’s promises to support arts spaces is disingenuous, explaining that the landlord has plans to convert the rest of the building to office space and needs the building’s tenant’s approval to get it through planning. Public records show Holman submitted an application to the Planning Department to rezone much of the building from retail/warehouse to an administrative office use.
Studio 17’s management sees the recent arrival of Plangrid, a mobile app for general contractors, as a sign of things to come. That same space was once occupied by the Homeless Children’s Network. Holman also evicted the collective In the Works in 2013 based on claims that members of the group were illegally inhabiting the workspace.
Donald says that Holman has offered Studio 17 a 5,000 square foot space on the second floor, but the promises remain vague. The landlord made no mention of these offers in his messages to Mission Local.
“This space on the second floor is an open plan area with low ceilings and little natural light,” said Donald. “Ultimately it is really unsuitable for the artists’ needs for some natural light and ventilation in individual work spaces.”
The smaller space also wouldn’t be able to accommodate all of Studio 17’s over 73 artists.
“Whether we move out of this building entirely or Holman does accommodate a portion of our 73 artists, this still equals displacement,” said Donald. “We have put a great deal of effort and resources into creating a thriving community of artist here in our current space. It will be heartbreaking if our community is broken and displaced.”
As part of the Mission’s open studios, Studio 17 will open its doors for visitors to see the array of work of over 70 different artists working in 70 different media. For Robert Donald and the artists he rents space to, they’re hoping it won’t be the last time.