Potrero Hill Recreation Center Basketball and Tennis Courts Up Their Games

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In August, San Francisco Recreation and Parks completed extensive renovations to the Potrero Hill Recreation Center’s basketball and tennis courts, resurfacing roughly 7,100 square feet of space. New basketball backboards and hoops were mounted, with fresh fencing around the tennis courts. 

“We installed new tennis nets and new black-painted posts in the tennis courts as well as a double gate to allow for easier access to the tennis courts. We trimmed the trees around the tennis courts. We also replaced the fabric inside the fence to the tennis courts with black, state-of-the-art synth fabric. We raised the benches near the tennis courts to an optimal sitting height,” said Tamara Barak Aparton, Rec and Parks spokesperson.

Before and after shots of the basketball and tennis courts. Photos: “Before” – SFRPD; “After” – Seth Socolow

The basketball and tennis courts are adjacent to one another, which made resurfacing easier. According to Barak Aparton, Saviano Company, Inc., a San Jose-based tennis court construction company, completed the project in about eight weeks at a cost of $260,000.

“One hundred and eighty thousand dollars was provided by San Franciscans for Sport & Recreation. The remaining $80,000, for the fencing job, came from Rec and Parks’ deferred maintenance funding,” said Barak Aparton.

“Potrero Hill Recreation Center is now home to a fantastic premier tennis and basketball site. It’s not only one of the best in the City, but one of the best anywhere. There are other restored courts in the City but none with a view like Potrero Hill’s,” said Steve Jamison, a San Franciscans for Sport & Recreation (SFFSR) founding member. 

“I’ve seen the before and after pictures of the resurfaced courts. The courts now look amazing,” said Anthony Giles, an attorney and SFFSR member. 

Securing the funds to improve the City’s tennis courts and other athletic areas began in 2015, when Pasadena-based developer, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. and San Francisco-based developer, TMG Partners, announced plans to build a one million square-foot office complex at 645 Fifth Street. Pinterest had signed a lease to occupy 490,000 square feet of space, whose address will ultimately be 88 Bluxome Street. The site is currently home to a private sports club built in 1974, now owned by The Bay Club Company, that contains 12 indoor and 12 outdoor tennis courts. 

Alexandria’s initial project blueprint didn’t retain the tennis courts, news that upset the 1,500 members of the Bay Club SF Tennis, who live throughout the City.  “Everyone was stunned, at a loss as to what we could do. I remembered that Art Agnos had fought to save the San Francisco Flower Mart. I invited him to speak to us. A packed house showed up on very short notice and heard his message: “You can win this fight and I’ll tell you how.” He spoke a second time, and a third! Art Agnos was the catalyst that galvanized us and created our citywide movement. They should name that court on Potrero Hill after him,” said Jamison.

Agnos, a Potrero Hill resident who served as the City’s mayor from 1988 to 1992, recommended a two-part strategy to SFFSR.  “The first step was to lobby the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor to replace the lost tennis courts. This didn’t work, because former Mayor Ed Lee was more interested in tech investment. The second step was to gather signatures for a City ballot measure that would block developments which did not replace lost recreational sites,” said Agnos. 

Bay Club SF Tennis members formed SFFSR to carry out the work. SFFSR is a 501(c)(4), a type of nonprofit that serves the public but doesn’t qualify to be a 501(c)(3) charity.  In 2016, SFFSR gathered roughly 18,000 signatures, almost twice as many as the 9,485 registered City voters needed to qualify a ballot measure. 

Dave Lang (left), Seth Socolow (right) on the new courts. Photo: Kevin Chang

Seth Socolow, one of the five members on SFFSR’s board, said Alexandria and The Bay Club contacted SFFSR through Agnos when the developers learned that the group had enough signatures to qualify a measure for the November 2016 ballot.  “In 2016, we worked out an agreement where SFFSR agreed not to put the measure on the ballot. In return, Alexandria and Bay Club would give $1,864,000 to public recreation in San Francisco. The money would be administered by SFFSR. In addition, Alexandria would rebuild the tennis club, including 12 indoor tennis courts, in the basement of the new office complex. Alexandria also agreed to provide 12 interim covered tennis courts in the City for Bay Club SF Tennis members to use during construction of the new sports club in the complex,” said Socolow.

Agnos said that he recommended the deal include a “breakup fee” of $25 million if the developers sold the Fifth Street site without completing the complex. Agnos believes the agreement reflects a compromise sum of between $6 and $7 million; a non-disclosure agreement prevents SFFSR from revealing the actual amount. 

“I don’t know of any other deal like this where the developer has agreed to provide funds to benefit projects all over the City. It’s also unheard of for developers to give affected groups a war chest to fight the next developer who might acquire the site,” said Agnos.

In 2017, SFFSR donated $1,864,000 to Rec and Parks to fund improvements to athletic areas. One million dollars was dedicated to general recreation support, with $864,000 reserved to resurface public tennis courts. The Potrero Hill Recreation Center was selected as one of the few sites on the Southside because it’s near public housing. It’s one of the final spots to be improved, after tennis courts were enhanced in McLaren Park, West Portal Playground, Golden Gate Heights Park, Buena Vista Park, Mountain Lake Park, and George R. Moscone Recreation Center. The two tennis courts at Stern Grove will be resurfaced next year, along with another site that hasn’t yet been selected.

The $1 million dedicated to general improvements was divided into allotments, including $400,000 for the Tennis & Learning Center (TLC), a Rec and Parks program located at Golden Gate Park that provides afterschool tennis instruction, academic tutoring, and leadership development to elementary and middle school students from underserved City neighborhoods. About $95,000 went to restore the Koret Playground in Golden Gate Park, following a 2017 arson incident that damaged many playground structures. 

About $300,000 went to Let’sPlaySF!, a partnership between Rec and Parks and San Francisco Parks Alliance, a nonprofit that supports parks and open space in the City. Let’sPlaySF! wants to retrofit 13 San Francisco play areas, including Herz Playground in Visitacion Valley. Roughly $105,000 went to the Gene Friend Recreation Center, located South-of-Market, a portion of which was dedicated to buying 10 sport wheelchairs for pickup and organized wheelchair basketball games. 

Socolow said SFFSR had to go through a lengthy City approval process to provide the $1,864,000 grant to Rec and Parks. “I think it’s turned out great. In Potrero Hill, the improvements give kids in the community an opportunity to play in brand-new recreational spaces. Not just one sport, but multiple sports,” said Socolow. 

A grand opening of the new courts will be held at 4 p.m. on November 19 at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center.