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Fillmore activists march to City Hall over ‘multimillion dollar blight’

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Acting Mayor London Breed speaks on the steps of City Hall on Thursday during a rally to call for accountability and transparency in The City’s search for the Fillmore Heritage Center’s next owner. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

After the closure of the Fillmore District barbecue joint Black Bark earlier this month, activists gathered outside of the Fillmore Heritage Center on Thursday mourned yet another casualty in the ongoing struggle to open the 50,000-square-foot, long-vacant complex to the local community.

A music and restaurant venue that once housed the former Yoshi’s jazz club, the heritage center is the centerpiece of The City’s long-promised revival of the Fillmore. Stripped of many longtime residents and local businesses throughout decades of neighborhood redevelopment, the center at 1300 Fillmore St. was intended to serve as an anchor for black arts and culture.

But it has stood vacant for the better part of three years, after Yoshi’s declared bankruptcy in 2012 and another jazz club that opened in its place shuttered in 2015, drawing the ire of local activists vying to curb gentrification in the area.

SEE RELATED: SF residents demand action, involvement at stagnant Fillmore Heritage Center

Following a rally held by community activists in November, The City announced that a request for proposal (RFP) process had stalled after five bidders who failed to meet a list of community standards were rejected.

A city review panel tasked with selecting a new owner for the property was disbanded after “none of the five complete proposals successfully met the requirements outlined in the RFP,” confirmed Office of Economic and Workforce Development spokesperson Gloria Chan on Thursday. The City is currently “reviewing and assessing” its options in moving forward, she said.

On Thursday, some two dozen community members and activists marched from the Fillmore Heritage Center to City Hall to demand evidence of The City’s continued commitment to the project.

Daniel Landry gathers community members in front of the Fillmore Heritage Center on Thursday before marching to City Hall. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Amid steady rainfall, they called for a collaboration between The City and Fillmore community around creating a new RFP, and for the space to be available for lease by community members and promoters in the interim.

“This is a follow-up and reminder not only to The City, but to ourselves [that] the Fillmore Heritage Center should be at the top of the agenda,” said Daniel Landry, former president of the New Community Leadership Foundation, the nonprofit demanding community involvement in the center’s redevelopment.

The NCLF activists have dubbed the center the Fillmore’s “multimillion dollar blight.”

“Since [the center] has closed, a lot of businesses are closing,” said NCLF spokesperson Majeid Crawford. “A lot of people are thinking that maybe the Fillmore isn’t the place for them, that this isn’t the place to set up business. It’s devastating.”

Last November, the activists announced their plans of creating a community-driven oversight board, tasked with monitoring The City’s selection of a new property owner and ensuring that a set of community benefits are included in any future sale.

Crawford said that the group is open to a new RFP process, as long as the center is available for community use in the meantime.

“All we are asking is that you give the residents of the Fillmore District a chance to demonstrate that we are fully capable of programming the venue and stimulating economic opportunity for our fellow residents,” said Crawford.

Jamel Paterson, center, and other march to City Hall on Thursday to call for accountability and transparency in The City’s search for the Fillmore Heritage Center’s next owner. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

The space was briefly activated in May 2016, when Acting Mayor London Breed, in partnership with the late Mayor Ed Lee, allocated $250,000 to support a Community Activation Program to provide affordable and community access to the space.

The space was available for lease to local groups and hosted about 85 events led by the African-American community, drawing some 7,500 visitors, according to Chan. But when the funds dried up in June 2017, the program ended abruptly.

On Thursday, Breed met the activists on steps of City Hall and expressed support for resuming The City’s past policy of opening the center for community organizations.

“Do we do another process and do another RFP? I, for one, would prefer not,” Breed said, adding that she is leaning toward working with the community group in “developing our own proposal.”

While Breed did not offer up suggestions on how to pay for even a temporary activation of the space, the community group suggested placing the onus of the costs on the center’s future developer.

“Any new owner should be willing to take those costs as a show of good faith,” Crawford said.

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