Central Subway project may lose site to luxury condos

The site of the former Pagoda Theater in North Beach is slated to be developed into condos, but some city officials want the land for the Central Subway. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco politicians have big dreams for the Central Subway.

Right now, the section under construction will see it stretch underneath Union Square to Chinatown, but plans are on the books to possibly expand the subway through North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Now, those expansion plans may have hit a roadblock.

An empty lot which city supervisors say is key to constructing a new leg of the Central Subway may soon be developed into luxury condos.

The site is the former home of the Pagoda Theater, on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Martin Kirkwood, real estate broker for the site’s owner, Joel Campos, said shovels could break ground on the project as soon as November.

“It depends on The City,” he said.

The Pagoda site’s impending development was brought to light in a Tuesday story by the San Francisco Examiner’s media partner, Hoodline. The Pagoda Theater site was an exit point for the boring machines that burrowed the Central Subway.

Campos agreed to lend the use of his land for the subway construction because “he felt The City benefitted him greatly,” Kirkwood said.

Now it will be the future home of 19 luxury condos, a restaurant and underground parking, according to filings with the Planning Department.

Supervisor Julie Christensen, whose district includes the neighborhoods the Central Subway would run through, urged the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to add the subway’s expansion to its list of possible capital projects.

“I believe the loss of the Pagoda [property] would make construction really difficult,” Christensen told the Examiner.

Christensen said the Pagoda site could be used as a construction staging area, to mitigate construction impacts to the surrounding area, including Washington Square park. Without the Pagoda site, she said, North Beach businesses may feel the pain of subway construction more bluntly.

She said the economies of Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach need quick public transit, and the Central Subway is key to that.

The Pagoda Theater site could also host senior housing with a subway station entrance below, Christensen said.

Kirkwood told the Examiner that no one in San Francisco government or the SFMTA made offers for the property. Campos purchased the Pagoda Theater site for $4 million in 2004, Kirkwood said.

“He’s been offered well above $10 million on the property in writing” since then, Kirkwood said.

The cost of the Central Subway is about $1.5 billion, according to SFMTA documents. In the SFMTA’s 20-year capital plan, which is a “wish list” of potential future projects, subway expansion to Fisherman’s Wharf is estimated between $643 million and $2.6 billion.

Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA, said “the former Pagoda Theater site is not essential to implement any future plans.”

But Supervisor Scott Wiener, who recently introduced a plan to require San Francisco to expand its subway network, feels differently.

“The City needs to acquire this property, through one way or another,” he said. “I’m at my wits end around The City’s failure to acquire the Pagoda Theater.”

There is one possibility for The City to seize the site: Eminent domain, which would allow San Francisco to take the property for a public use.

So far, lawmakers haven’t publicly suggested that option.

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