Friends of Dogpatch Hub Eye Port Building to Serve as Neighborhood Center

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Friends of Dogpatch Hub (FoDH), formed to establish a community center, wants to secure a long-term lease with the Port of San Francisco on the Kneass building, at 651 Illinois Street. Under its proposal the nonprofit would pay nominal rent but be responsible for repairing and restoring the edifice. FoDH would be able to sublease portions of the structure, retaining associated revenues. 

The former boat construction shed would serve as the Hub, a meeting place for Dogpatch residents, with space for after-school programs, senior activities, a café, and the Potrero Archives.

The Kneass building is a 13,500-square foot, two-story structure located on Illinois between 18th and 19th streets. It used to front the water on its eastern side. Sometime during the late-19th Century the adjacent bay was filled, landlocking the edifice. 

“The Kneass building is right on the edge of Crane Cove Park,” said Katherine Doumani, a Friends of Dogpatch Hub board member and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) president. “We plan on holding activities seven days of the week at the center, which would benefit the park by keeping eyes on it.”  

The building has significantly deteriorated. With the potential addition of such facilities as a kitchen and museum-quality archival space, repair and remodel costs could be quite significant.  Rebecca Benassini, the Port’s assistant deputy director of waterfront development projects, indicated that expected overhaul costs for the Kneass building might be similar to those incurred in mending Building 49, a smaller nearby Port property.

“There is the opportunity to add a seismic retrofit to Building 49…if one did that, that would cost more money but would result in more occupancy in the building where you could densify uses inside of the building. To give you a little bit of perspective, that’s about $500 to $700 per building square foot, pretty expensive. And Kneass is more than Building 49 in terms of the per square-foot cost,” said Benassini. 

Based on these quite rough estimates remodeling the Kneass building to serve as the Hub could cost upwards of $15 million.

According to Doumani, FoDH has conducted an historic resource evaluation “so we know what we’re in for.” TEF Design has volunteered to create building restoration plans. Douglas Tom, TEF Design founding principal, particularly contributed to the effort. Andrew Wolfram, a TEF principal and former San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission president, assisted with the designs.  

FoDH has raised a bit more than $9.6 million for the Dogpatch Hub, including roughly $60,000 in donations from Dogpatch residents, a $4.2 million ‘leadership gift’ from the University of California, San Francisco, $180,000 in accrued interest from UCSF’s gift, $2.5 million from Associate Capital, the developer of the Potrero Power Station, and $2.1 million from Brookfield Properties, the developer of Pier 70, formerly known as “Forest City.”

“UCSF contributed partly because it demolished two other historic buildings on Minnesota Street, warehouses that were used for fruit canning. Brookfield Properties provided this gift in recognition that their development will profoundly impact the larger Dogpatch community beyond the boundaries of their project,” said Doumani. 

According to Doumani, raising additional funds and further developing plans to redesign and repair the Kneass building’s interior are on hold because of the public health crisis. “We anticipate there will be a vaccine or “annual COVID shot” by the time the building opens. We anticipate opening in 2023,” she said.

“Raising $9.6 million is no small feat,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamman Walton. “It is a testament to the excitement and necessity of the Hub for the neighborhood. It also demonstrates the commitment and the resilience of the Dogpatch community. I can’t wait for the Hub to open and complement the beautiful park.” 

“I’m looking forward to one day attending programming put on by the Dogpatch Hub!” said Emily Gogol, who served as executive director of the former Dogpatch Center for Arts and Culture, or “D Center” from 2017 to 2019. The Center, located at 1275 Minnesota Street, offered space for community-building activities, including art and music classes. 

Peter Linenthal, Potrero Hill Archives Project director, is enthusiastic about siting the Archives at the Hub. That would fulfill “…our goal of making our collections available to the public through displays and storage space at Crane Cove Park, already a popular gathering place. The historic Kneass Boat Works would be the perfect spot for the Hub. It dates to 1878, is integral to Potrero history, and is part of the growth of industry on Potrero Point which transformed the neighborhood.” 

The Potrero Hill Archives Project, which collects historical documents and objects relating to the Hill, started in 1986.  “Today our collections are overflowing a storage room in my basement,” said Linenthal. 

For more than 100 years various vessels – for whaling, salmon, oyster and crab fishing, lifeboats, among other purposes – were constructed by Kneass Boat Works.  The company also “…produced flagpoles, oars, and worked as house movers. Kneass built the 18-foot ‘Pacific,’ in which the first solo crossing of the Pacific Ocean was made in 1883. The Archives owns wooden forms used to cast parts for Kneass yachts,” Linenthal said. 

According to Benassini, the Kneass building was removed from the public trust as part of a Pier 70 trust realignment and swap related to the Brookfield Properties project. The trust exchange created Pier 70 development lots to be leased or sold for flexible, non-trust, purposes. Typically, Port properties are reserved for uses associated with commerce, navigation, and fisheries. 

Benassini said the Kneass building features large roll-up doors on its east face, which could be redesigned to engage with Crane Cove Park. “It’s eligible for historic status. Any entity that came on board to invest in it would have to do a bit of work to get it listed. We believe it could be listed, which would then potentially unlock tax credit for the building,” said Benassini. 

FoDH previously considered a derelict police station at 2303 Third Street on the southwest corner of Third and 20th streets as a Hub home. The building would’ve been costly to rehabilitate. In addition, because the lot is more than 0.25 acres it’s considered surplus under municipal regulations and must be considered for use as affordable housing. 

The San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) “…is interested in piloting an innovative service model with a self-serve automated kiosk and holds locker for patrons to retrieve requested items from our collection” at the Hub, said Kate Patterson, SFPL director of communications. “We’ve set aside $0.5 million in funding for the kiosks in our Fiscal Year 22 budget, which was approved in the last budget cycle. Librarians from our nearby branches and SFPL’s Mobile Outreach Services unit would also be available to perform outreach and provide some programming. The Potrero Branch will continue to be a full-service branch library with dedicated staffing. Services to the Dogpatch site would most likely be coordinated as ongoing outreach to the community.”