After years of controversial changes at the Redlick Building on Mission and 17th streets, agreements have been reached that may increase the amount of artist space in the building while also legalizing non zoning compliant office space. Still, some tenants are celebrating new leases while others are packing their bags, displaced and displeased.
Rick Holman, a partner in the Mission Street LLC, which has owned the building at 2121 Mission St since 2013, once expressed his dedication to maintaining affordable artist space in the building.
“We’re pleased to own this well-known San Francisco building. We plan to maintain it as it is: bustling with unique, San Francisco and Mission-oriented businesses,” Holman wrote in an open letter in August 2013. The letter was prompted by the eviction of In The Works, an anti-capitalist collective whose members had been living in the space for at least two years. “We have no intention to tear down the building, convert the building to lofts or condos, or otherwise change its fundamental character or use.”
In the nearly two years since that letter, however, the building’s population has changed steadily. More than 70 of the building’s artists have departed, as have a non profit organization for homeless children, a dollar store, a shirt printing company, and a remedial driving school. A ceramics collaborative and a handful of other artists, retailers Thrift Town and Fabric Outlet, and three tech companies remain.
The biggest change is the displacement of arts collaborative Studio 17 from the fourth floor. An extensive retrofit that requires removing the building’s roof to drive unanchored bracing through the building prompted the landlord to let the lease with Studio 17 end. Its member artists have now left their lofty and well-lit fourth floor studios.
To make up for the lost fourth floor studio space, the Redlick’s owners have worked out a plan to turn other parts of the building into artist studios — most noticeably, converting a former dollar store’s ground floor retail space facing Mission Street into a gallery and studios. That conversion hinges on the approval of a conditional use permit for the building. The rest of the 10,000 square feet of former studio space swept out of the fourth floor will be replaced by studio space on the second and third floors.
The final balance of arts to office space, if the permit is granted, will be roughly 18,000 square feet for artists — and about 49,000 square feet each of office and retail space. An additional 6,000 square feet will be for other trades.
“The current application seeks to legalize the existing office uses – no intensification or expansion of office use is contemplated,” said Jessica Berg, a spokesperson for the LLC that owns the building.
To Studio 17’s master tenant Robert Donald and many artists, non-renewal of the lease on their fourth floor studios meant permanent displacement. The future occupants of the fourth floor after the retrofit aren’t determined yet, according to Berg, but they are unlikely to be artists. Berg said the proposed substitute art spaces had been well received by many artists, but several others have complained that the new spaces on the second floor are inadequate.
“It was just a very low light situation, and all artificially lit, it was like being John Malkovitch … a very squashed feeling,” said Mark Garrett, a collage artist and painter who moved out in mid June. “It feels like tokenism. Frankly it just feels like they’re just using it to push through their rezoning efforts.”
In any case, only 6,000 square feet of the promised 18,000 square feet of arts space is currently available. It would only take about a month to build the ground floor retail space into a gallery, if permits are granted. The third floor still houses the labor crowdsourcing company CrowdFlower, as well as the Red Brick Studios ceramics cooperative and a few other small businesses. CrowdFlower’s lease will not be renewed, Berg said, and the space will be converted into 6,000 square feet of studios — effectively displacing a tech company to create artist space. CrowdFlower did not respond to a request for comment.
Red Brick Studios, however, has occupied about a quarter of the third floor for five years, and recently signed an extended lease that secures their continued existence in the space. The artists will celebrate their continued presence in the building tonight by opening its studios to try to connect to a public that might not realize how many artists operate in the building. “One of the things that I learned throughout this whole process is that we’re not connected to the community like we should be,” said Vince Montague, a ceramics artist. “I’m content to just go up there and work, get my work done and then leave… I realized that people don’t know that we’re there.”
Montague said the lease renewal came with a rent increase, but that the 14 cooperative members were able to reshuffle and subdivide the space to accommodate additional renters and weather the increase. Tonight, they’re celebrating their future in the building with an open studios event.
Several artists have already accepted and moved in to spaces on the second floor. Though Berg said the artists have been repeatedly notified of the new plans, many Studio 17 artists said they have long been under the impression that they would be locked or kicked out come July, and began the relocation process.
“I’m so tapped out, I want to fight the fight but I don’t want to be locked in or out,” said Denise Laws, a mixed media artist who was packing up in the last weeks of June.
Some artists have moved their work into storage while they search for a new space, others have found new studio spaces in more far-flung areas like the Bayview. A few are now working from home. A handful have accepted leases for second-floor studio space.
Daniel Lichtenberg, a filmmaker and poet with a Studio 17 space said the retrofit wasn’t legally mandated, and seemed like an excuse to push the artists out.
“To tell us that we had to leave for sure because of that seems kind of manipulative,” Lichtenberg said.
Truong Tran, another Studio 17 artist who is moving out, agreed.
“He wants to come to the Planning Commission and say, look, we’ve done everything we can,” Tran said, referring to the application for a conditional use permit to legalize the office spaces. “I feel like we got suckered.”
Moreover, Tran said, the nature of the building’s occupants has shifted, moving from artists and businesses that cater to working class clients to mostly office space.
As the days left on Studio 17’s lease drew to a close in late June, Donald said he was approached by Holman and offered a one-month extension of his lease and some assistance in relocating Studio 17. Donald also relayed from his landlord that the planned 18,000 square feet of studio space, some of which has already been leased, will be rented at around $2 a square foot and leases have been signed that stipulate no rent increases for two years.
“I feel like this owner wants to work with the community and wants to provide the arts space in a way that’s going to work for the artists,” Donald said. “It may not be everything that we had before, but I believe it is a valuable contribution, and not a terrible precedent to set in terms of being able to accommodate diverse communities within the building like this.”
Red Brick will open its studios to the public and welcome them with flowers from Mission de Flores and tea from Samovar Tea tonight from 5 to 9 p.m.