Dogpatch Neighbors Eye Historic Building as Possible Community Center

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The Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) borrows space at the University of California, San Francisco, local bars, and other places to hold its meetings; the neighborhood lacks a multipurpose community center. Finding a building to house a potential Dogpatch “hub” has proven challenging for DNA member Katherine Doumani, who is spearheading the effort. Recently, Doumani identified the derelict Potrero Police Station and hospital, located on the corner of Third and 20th Streets, as a valuable site that could be restored and repurposed as a neighborhood community center.

The police building was constructed in 1913.  The hospital building was added in 1915 as a place to treat shipyard workers injured on the job. The real estate asset is owned by the City, and has been vacant for nearly two decades, except for periodic squatters. Long-term neglect and a 2012 fire have led to significant deterioration of the property.

According to Desiree Smith, deputy director for San Francisco Heritage, the structures aren’t listed on the City’s historic registry list, but are considered contributing buildings, a legal term identifying structures that bolster a neighborhood’s historic designation status. San Francisco Heritage is a non-profit organization based in Pacific Heights that strives to preserve the City’s architectural and cultural resources.

The structures rest on a 0.27 acre lot, with generous open space.  Doumani thinks they tell a story about the neighborhood’s blue collar past. Developing them as a community center would both revitalize a historic asset and provide a venue for public use. The “hub” concept is still in its inception; DNA is exploring the needs that could be served by this potential community space.

“Dogpatch is the outback of San Francisco,” said Doumani. “We’ve never had a public serving space in the neighborhood. The space could be used for lots of different things. We could have a pocket library with WiFi and a multipurpose room. The hospital area could be leased to a neighborhood-serving nonprofit. The most compelling setup would be to do something like San Francisco’s various cultural centers, where the City owns the buildings but are operated by the organizations housed there.”

There are challenges to redeveloping the property. Rehabilitating the structures might be too costly to merit subsequent occupation by low-revenue generating functions. In this scenario, Doumani suggested that a commercial developer could allow DNA and other groups use of the spaces periodically.

Because the lot is above 0.25 acres, the property is considered to be surplus by the City.  Legislation passed in 2015 requires that it be prioritized for affordable housing. However, there’s support among residents to preserve the historicity of the location. District 10 Supervisor Cohen and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have expressed interest in the “hub” initiative.

DNA board member, Mc Allen, thinks that ideas such as the Dogpatch “hub” are important to examine, given the steady increase in housing units in the area, but said the property is one of several options that could serve as a community meeting venue, including spaces at Pier 70 and parcels recently acquired by UCSF.  “We need a space for about 60 people for community meetings equipped with a projector,” Allen stated. “If it costs $40 million to rehabilitate, I don’t think that would be worth it and the City should build affordable housing there instead.”

In June, DNA contacted John Updike, director of real estate for the City, to express their support to have the historic building reused as a community resource, given that Dogpatch has no city-owned public serving spaces.

According to Bruce Huie, DNA president, with the neighborhood’s rising population the community group has nearly outgrown its usual meeting space at UCSF’s Minnesota Street facility. Huie and others are researching potential funding sources, and networking with construction professionals who have experience with historic properties.  “DNA looks forward to working with all City agencies, two local sports teams, three community groups and up to 11 real estate developers with projects in Dogpatch to make the proposed project a success,” Huie commented.

After gaining support from neighbors and generating enthusiasm by speaking about the nascent project at past DNA meetings, Doumani is now backtracking to get a sense of the costs to get the buildings in operable condition.  “The Dogpatch is hot and everyone wants a piece,” Doumani reflected. “There is so much change happening that is kind of jarring for a lot of people and there aren’t a lot of improvements to the quality of life. I’m just hoping. We have all suffered for too long watching these buildings go into disrepair. There’s a lot of support for preserving them for the public.”