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Mission nonprofit seeks to buy historic Redstone Building to keep tenants in place

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The Redstone building at the corner of Capp and 16th streets in the Mission District has historic significance to the labor movement and is home to a number of nonprofits and artists. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The Mission Economic Development Agency is seeking to purchase the Mission District’s more-than-a-century old Redstone Building after its owner put it on the market earlier this year, placing its nonprofit and artist tenants at risk of displacement.

Formerly known as the Redstone Labor Temple, the historic building at 16th and Capp streets once served as the organizing hub for city unions and now houses over a dozen community groups and many independent artists.

MEDA, a nonprofit Mission District housing developer, is currently involved in negotiations with longtime landlord David Lucchesi over a potential purchase of the building in an effort to retain it as a community resource.

“The Mission cannot afford to lose this vital asset, so we are currently exploring public and philanthropic financing options — contingent on ongoing feasibility studies of the property and feedback from tenants — so that MEDA can preserve the Redstone for our community,” MEDA Senior Project Manager Feliciano Vera said in a statement on Monday.

Sources close to the negotiations confirmed that Lucchesi was initially seeking to sell the four-story building for upwards of $24 million, triggering an intervention by MEDA earlier this year. Attempts to reach Lucchesi were unsuccessful.

Since the late 1960s, the Redstone has provided affordable spaces to community serving organizations and artists.

Lucchesi has previously made several attempts to sell the building. Likewise, efforts to gain community control of the building have been unsuccessful.

In 1999, the Redstone Tenants Association was formed by tenants.

With MEDA’s support, the association secured a grant that supported efforts to designate the Redstone as a historic landmark. The grant also paid for a property assessment of the building, though an attempt to purchase the building by the association failed.

Now, many of its current tenants fear that they could be at risk of displacement now that the building is, once again, on the market.

“I think the fear of everybody as a community is that first, we are going to lose our space. This is something that not a lot of people have in San Francisco,” said a tenant who gave his name as Jonathan and who said he is an organizer with a homeless rights advocacy group that for years has rented space in the building. “There are real connections, physical, historical connections, people who have grown up in the neighborhood. That building is a landmark. They might kick us out, all the nonprofit radicals, if that’s what they are going to decide.”

Other groups include El/La Para Translatinas, which provides transgender support services to the Latino community, The LAB, an interdisciplinary artists’ organization, and the International Indian Treaty Council, which supports traditional indigenous cultures.

“The owner has been going back and forth about selling the building for many years, and at times it looked like it was going to happen but somehow it never did,” said Paula Tejeda, owner of Chile Lindo, a Chilean cafe that has operated out of a 16th Street storefront in the building since 1973. “One of the things that really triggered this sale, I believe, is that he had to invest a great deal in putting the building up to code.”

The Redstone was constructed and operated by the San Francisco Labor Council Hall Associates in 1914 with a 70 by 62 foot auditorium and its own medical and dental clinics. Murals that decorate its hallways commemorate the Redstone’s past as a labor organizing hub.

A vote that led some 175 unions of the San Francisco Labor Councils on a four-day general strike in 1934 to support waterfront workers was taken in the Redstone’s auditorium.

By the 1970s, the Redstone had transitioned into a community center and over the last decades it has housed powerful local organizations, including the Eviction Defense Network and the GLBT Historical Society. The building was also home to the oldest gay theater in the United States, Theatre Rhinoceros, which was displaced by a string of rent increases in 2009.

Recent fundraising efforts by tenants launched to save the building have fallen short, and some tenants expressed skepticism over their ability to save the Redstone while maintaining its historical use as a community center.

“MEDA would need a partner in this, and who has the money to be a partner in something like this? The only way this would work is if we got another wealthy, deep pocket tenant. That would mean tech,” said Tejeda.

“None of the tenants are in a position to be a partner in that sense. I am certainly not in a position to take on higher rent or more costs to run my business as it is.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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