Art center replacing old depot

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A crumbling 108-year-old train depot near the Balboa Park station will soon be a place where neighborhood youths can explore their creative side.

The Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse at Geneva and San Jose avenues was once an integral part of the San Mateo Railroad and San Francisco Muni systems, but it has not been used since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was nearly demolished a decade ago.

Now, it’s being eyed as a cultural center for the community, which has the highest percentage of youths in San Francisco yet the lowest percentage of youth services, according to Nicole Avril, who heads the nonprofit organization leading the effort to transform the site. District 11 is home to the Excelsior and Ingleside neighborhoods, among others.

“This is a great addition to the community, especially in terms of experiential learning for youths, because there is nothing like it currently here,” said Carlton Eichelberger, the clubhouse director for the Boys and Girls Club in the Excelsior district.

Under the plan, the rehabilitated 16,000-square-foot center would house a 100-person black-box theater, an exhibition space, art studios, a café and several community-conscious retail spaces. It would offer apprenticeships, employment opportunities and job training with youth-based creative organizations such as the writing center 826 Valencia, the Bay Area Video Coalition and SF Camerawork.

Renovation on the depot is estimated to cost $13.5 million and work is slated to be finished between mid-2012 and early 2013, according to Avril. The transformation of the car barn is part of the Balboa Park station area plan, a major neighborhood rehabilitation project that was approved earlier this year by the Board of Supervisors.

Funding for the project will likely come from local development impact fees and historic preservation tax credits — the building was declared a San Francisco landmark in 1985. Avril said she’s also reaching out to private benefactors.

“We feel positive about our funding direction,” she said. “It’s a tough climate right now, but we’re staying on schedule.”

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos said the new cultural center would be a much-needed addition to the neighborhood, which boasts a major transit hub in the Balboa Park station, but lacks any notable attractions nearby.

“This part of The City just does not have the resources other neighborhoods have,” Avalos said. “This plan would transform a blighted building into an essential community gathering place.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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