Artists Look to Anchor at Hunters Point Shipyard

in by

As new residents settle into freshly built market-rate housing located at the former Hunters Point Shipyard, artists who have long maintained studios in the area are also anticipating a move, just a parcel away. Lennar Urban, developer for the Shipyard, is required by the City’s Office of Community Infrastructure and Investment (OCII) to construct 106,000 square feet of creative workspace to replace six buildings that’re destined to be demolished. Lennar has to create a separate space for Eclectic Cookery, a commercial kitchen used by food trucks and catering businesses.

Construction is already underway for the Cookery. The new artists’ building is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2017. To develop the new structure Lennar must first level a steep slope on a parcel far from the Bay.

Lennar is also planning to build Innovation Alley, a technology innovation space where artists, creatives, and students will interact. The Alley will house programs offered by San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Unified School District. In addition, Lennar and the artists may collaborate on a community arts center, where artists could offer classes and exhibit their work.

According to Kofi Bonner, regional vice president for Lennar Urban, “We started working with the artists to create a permanent space for them several years ago. Our goal was not only to retain but expand and enhance their programs,” including the seasonal Open Studios.   Although the artists “love the current situation, change is inevitable,” he said. “I came at this thinking we could definitely work with the artists to create something that would be very beneficial and a cornerstone of the community. The rest is really tactics, how do you do it.”

“Starting construction on the Arts Complex at Hunters Point Shipyard is a significant achievement for the site’s redevelopment,” said Tiffany Bohee, OCII’s executive director. “These new facilities will ensure a permanent place for the Shipyard’s 300 artists.”

Marti McKee, president of the Board of Directors of Shipyard Trust for the Arts (STAR), said approximately 140 artists are eligible to relocate to the new space.  “The rent rate for the new building will be $1.11 per square foot, which is about twice as much as what people were paying before. Some people have downsized. Others saw it as an opportunity to get a bigger studio.”

Some artists will remain at their current rates of between 50 to 75 cents per square foot, with the longest-standing tenants having first call on the lowest charges.  According to McKee, STAR has raised funds to support artists who have difficulty paying higher rates.  Solar panels on the new building’s roof will also lower costs.  “The savings in electricity will be used to help artists who couldn’t afford to move,” said McKee.

“Every studio will have walls, a window, and a door,” said McKee. “The studios will range from 120 to 1,500 square feet and have mechanical ventilation. The buildings will have bathrooms and heat. Right now, some of the current studios do not have running water.”

Jim Gleeson, an oil and watercolor painter who has been at the Shipyard since 2008, is excited to move into the new building. “I like the idea of consolidation,” he said. “Congestion will be an obvious concern. This will impact the solitude that we have known out there. On the other hand, more people will know where we are.” Gleeson said he hopes more businesses move to the Shipyard. He’d like to see the site become a mix of residential homes, commercial space, and artists.

John DiPaolo, an oil painter who has been at the Shipyard since 1985, said he looks forward to getting a studio with heat and water. He’ll miss the quiet the Shipyard now provides. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s a refuge. When I first came here, there was an active shipyard. You used to see the school buses with the guys in the hard hats,” he said. 

DiPaolo had a surreal experience during his first days at the Shipyard. The owner of the AAA Shipyard, which ran ship repair operations at the site, was a cowboy. He’d imported a herd of cows from Texas. “When I first came here, I saw a cow with horns. All of a sudden, it just disappeared around the corner. I thought I was going crazy, but then I turned the corner and saw three more,” said DiPaolo.

Lorna Kollmeyer, an artist who creates traditional ornamental plaster work, said she’ll be getting a lot less space for more money.  “That’s a drag,” said Kollmeyer.  In her spare moments Kollmeyer takes her dogs for a swim between the old submarine causeways. When Lennar begins to demolish and later build, “it’ll be a lot more like being in an urban situation.”  Yet Kollmeyer is thankful that provisions have been made for the artists’ community to remain.  “It’ll be good to have heat. We’ve been freezing in our studio for 30 years. If you were really cold, you just put a heater next to you and would stay in one place,” said Kollmeyer.

Julian Billotte, a frame maker and restorer of gilded objects, has a unique perspective on the Shipyard. He’s a master tenant, a lessor who can rent out space to other artists as subtenants. This arrangement will end once the building he occupies is destroyed.  Billotte plans to have studio space in the new structure, but will move the “bones” of his gilding operation north to Santa Rosa.

“I grew up in Potrero Hill, and my dad had a studio at the bottom of the hill at American Can Company. He lost it, and that’s when we moved out to the Shipyard. The attraction of the Shipyard was its proximity to Potrero Hill.” Accordng to Billotte, the Shipyard has always been an oasis of nature in the City. Artists could see hawks, jackrabbits and coyotes, and be inspired by the light and water.  “It was half wild, even more so before the cleanup for development,” said Billotte. “The average artist has been here 10 to 20 years. People who come stay because of the affordability and really great studios. There hasn’t been much like it in the City in the past 15 years.”

Scott Madison, owner of Eclectic Cookery, which has been at the Shipyard since 1984, is amused that his new space will be only 300 yards away from where the kitchen is currently located. “The downside is we’re losing about 1,000 square feet of space, mainly storage space. Since we rent individual rooms in the building we currently occupy, we don’t have to pay for hallways and common space. In the new building, we’ll be paying for the entire space,” said Madison. Madison’s main kitchen serves 60 customers, fifteen of which are food trucks that use the Cookery’s facility as a commissary. “Everybody needs storage space, for refrigerated to non-refrigerated supplies,” he said.

The Cookery will get a slightly expanded cooking facility. Lennar will also build it a new kitchen and replace much of its equipment. “It’d be nuts to walk away from this, unless the economic situation of increased rent doesn’t work. We don’t know how much higher the rent will be. That’s something we’re very anxious to learn,” said Madison.

There’s been speculation that Google is interested in Shipyard space to relocate Youtube from its San Bruno office or house new projects. When contacted by the View, Google had no comment.

Madison said much of the space at the Shipyard would be a good fit for small industrial and mechanical businesses. “The Navy just left and left a lot of machinery installed in the buildings. Metal-cutting, wood-cutting machinery. At one point, there were 92 little businesses out here besides the artists. They’re all gone,” said Madison. 

According to Madison, the Shipyard doesn’t need a great deal of additional clean-up from industrial pollution and contamination to clear it for commercial development. He’d like to see some of the space become a source of jobs for Bayview residents. “A lot of people who live and work here cannot afford the housing they are building,” said Madison. Condominiums ranging from 992 to 1,587 square feet in size are on offer for between $600,000 and $930,000.  Creating blue collar businesses could help Bayview’s historically African-American neighborhood retain its population.  “That would be very important, both economically and sort of spiritually,” said Madison.