Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco searches for new tenant

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Palace of Fine Arts is looking for a long-term tenant following the relocation of the Exploratorium. A magnificent building by a renowned architect, located in one of San Francisco's most coveted neighborhoods, is up for lease and needs some great care.

Since the Exploratorium moved, there have been interim tenants, including a private school. However, the San Francisco Rec and Park Department wants something more permanent. A meeting was held Tuesday night to tell the public the options they're considering. Some of the ideas discussed were: a hotel, a market place, and a sports complex.

"It this is one of San Francisco's most important and iconic structures," Rec and Park director Phil Ginsburg said.

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition. For more than 40 years it was home to the Exploratorium, but that science museum moved two years ago and the lease for the temporary tenant expires next year.

"I would really like to see a tenant to come in that has a vision of how to transform the Palace of Fine Arts, respect its history, but really transform it," San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell said.

Farrell is the district supervisor who grew up a block away. He says any new development also needs be open to the public and not devastate the neighborhood with traffic.

The winning bidder will have to sink millions to upgrade the century old palace.

"For us it's about having a stable partner there that can actually invest in the building so it's around another 100 years," Ginsburg said.

Tuesday evening some of the ideas discussed were: a hotel, a market place, and a sports complex.

A hotel is just one idea, but one that seemed to generate the most vocal opposition. There didn't seem to be much enthusiasm for an indoor sports complex either. Some said a retail or restaurant destination would take away from the businesses on Chestnut and Union streets. Others said the place should remain true to its historic past and honor the arts.

Alameda-based Bladium Sports was one of two fitness companies approached by the city to come up with a proposal. Peter Halberstadt from Bladium Sports said, "We have a history of taking buildings of this size or larger and coming up with a creative re-use that actually provides sports programs, fitness programs."

It's all part of a plan to throw out a wide range of ideas on what to do with the space and the public will have a chance to weigh in online.

The Rec and Park Department says a decision should be made sometime next year.
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