Update, 8/13/17: The neighborhood meeting planned for Sunday, August 13 to discuss the activities at 930 Alabama Street has been rescheduled for Sunday, August 20, 4-6 p.m. Matt McGraw, the owner of 930 Alabama Street, who arranged for the meeting, cited a lack of interest in the first meeting and said he would be sending out invitations and posting a sign on the building about the new meeting date.
Residents of a tranquil block of Alabama Street between 21st and 22nd streets found themselves suddenly living next to a recreation of a Tennessee general store last week, a theatrical marketing experiment by whiskey giant Jack Daniels.
For some, it was an amusing and lively addition to the block that kept the street active. For others, it was the last straw in a series of disruptions stemming from 930 Alabama Street.
The address marks a one-story industrial building with a bowed roof, its front wall painted white with quirky nature scenes. The 5,550-square-foot building’s history is somewhat unclear, but Planning records online refer to it most often as a warehouse. According to its current owner, the building may have been built as a livery stable, then a mechanic, an incubator space, and later a photography studio.
When Matt McGraw, the current owner, bought the property ten years ago, he used the space as an IT firm called Rocket Science. Now, it’s the home of Here Collective, which operates as a co-working space and also hosts events, most recently becoming the venue for Jack Daniels. His plan, McGraw said, is to use it almost exclusively as a co-working space, starting August 1.
Neighbors say events have been hosted there on and off for at least a year, with tempers sometimes flaring over amplified music and parking. McGraw told users on Nextdoor that he would hold a community meeting about the use of the space from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, August 13th, at 930 Alabama Street.
Somehow, the Here Collective developed a reputation as an events space, because McGraw says Jack Daniels approached him about bringing their project there. Having a virtual reality distillery tour, a band, and vendors (though no alcohol was sold) on the block put some neighbors over the edge.
Anonymous complainants have lodged three complaints with the Department of Building Inspections about the space and two with the Planning Department. All except one of the Planning complaints have been resolved. At least one neighbor has also lodged complaints with the police about amplified music.
McGraw said he just recently learned of the complaints and has generally gotten along with everyone.
“I’m having a hard time even thinking who it might be, because I’ve lived here for 10 years, I’m the kind of guy who hangs out in front of my building,” he said. “There’s neighbors on the left and across the street, they all come to these events that we host”
Before the arrival of Jack Daniels, McGraw said, he “went around to our block knocking on our friends’ doors and they were universally, everyone I talked to, was like, ‘this is so cool!’”
In an informal survey of a dozen or so neighbors conducted by Mission Local, no clear majority of either supporters or critics emerged. Several were ambivalent about the new use of the space.
Some residents are not happy.
“They just went in there and just did it without even coming and talking to us. They just do whatever they want,” said Martha Santiago, 35-year resident of the block.
Parking was Santiago’s primary concern. She and a few other neighbors said the event producers had taken out a parking permit for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for their loading days, then written over in marker the 8 p.m. time limit to replace it with a midnight timestamp.
In an already parking-strapped neighborhood, that didn’t go over well. Several residents said trucks blocked their driveways or took up precious curb space, or otherwise double parked and caused logjams on the narrow street.
Others didn’t feel the new space made sense in the neighborhood.
“It feels invasive, but it’s hard to know what fits a neighborhood. What’s next, Coca Cola?” one neighbor, who wanted to stay anonymous, said. But then they relented, saying a few times neighbors had been given advance notice, and anyway, another building’s residents threw much more raucous parties.
“I understand the need to make money…The owners are community driven,” the neighbor added.
“It’s taking away from the character of the neighborhood and the Mission,” said another.
But not all are opposed to the use of the space generally or even to its biggest yet event, Jack Daniels.
“It’s a cool vibe and nice people,” said Tito Correa, who lives next door to the venue and answered the door in a Jack Daniels T-shirt. He recalled that the event had also included a $5 haircut station one day, and pedicab rides to Dolores Park another. Correa said he liked the virtual reality tour, the lemonade and sweet tea, and the cheap haircuts.
Another nearby resident also didn’t seem to mind the party.
“The owners seemed really concerned about us not being annoyed, and made sure the business understood it had to be low key,” they said.
Meanwhile, a thread on the social media site Nextdoor boiled over with criticism. Neighbors were incensed at the use of parking spaces and insisted the events were not permitted, with one resident calling them “illegal.”
McGraw responded online, writing that the production company for the Jack Daniels event had already been fined for their parking misdeeds. Building Inspection Department records indicate the event had secured a permit from the Fire Department.
Events, McGraw said, are stressful and a lot of work, even for him.
“They’re just too much work, they’re production,” he said. “That just doesn’t fit in my lifestyle.
It certainly doesn’t fit my two-and-a-half-year-olds’ lifestyle, her bedroom literally shares a wall with this building.”
But even the plans for a co-working space, which promise to be quieter and didn’t raise as many hackles on the block, could face permitting hiccups.
According to Planning Department spokesperson Gina Simi, the building is in a district that could allow for Limited Commercial uses, but would require a permit to be changed to office use. No such application has been filed, and no change of use is on record with Planning.
“There’s a chance it was once used as such, but I can’t find any evidence of that and it would take further investigation,” she wrote. “And I don’t see a change of use permit ever being approved.”
When he got similar news from planners last week, McGraw said, he was taken aback, especially since he’d bought the building with a loan specifically for businesses, and had gotten permits from the Planning Department for repairs on the property before without issue.
“The very first time I heard there was a problem with that was Thursday, when the Planning Department reached out,” he said. “That was a very big surprise to me.”