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Supervisor takes steps to purchase key site for Central Subway expansion

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The site of 1701 Powell St., which Supervisor Julie Christensen is asking The City to assess for the Central Subway station extension. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In the wake of impending loss of a key site to expand the new Central Subway, a city supervisor has announced renewed efforts to purchase it.

Supervisor Julie Christensen has asked city government’s Real Estate Division to newly assess the Pagoda Theater property on Columbus Avenue, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The site is oft-named as key to the potential plan to extend the Central Subway beyond Chinatown and into North Beach, a route which would end in Fisherman’s Wharf.

“We are lighting bonfires under their fannies,” Christensen said. “I’ve finally gotten a lot of people to share my sense of urgency.”

The Pagoda Theater site was identified by Christensen and others as key staging area for construction of a future Central Subway extension, and a potential future subway station.

But, as the Examiner and Hoodline previously reported, the Pagoda Theater site is slated to be the future home of 19 luxury condos, according to filings with the Planning Department.

The project is expected to break ground in November, said Martin Kirkwood, a real estate broker who represents the Joel Campos, who owns the site.

Supervisor Scott Wiener is co-sponsoring Christensen’s efforts to purchase the Pagoda Theater site, and said it dovetails off his new proposal to have San Francisco expand its subway network.

“The City needs to get it together and purchase it,” Wiener said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand and let this opportunity to purchase the site slip away.”

If Christensen’s purchasing effort fails, The City would have one legal option left to it to acquire the site: Eminent domain, which neighborhood advocates back.

“I think this is an important enough project that it’d be worthwhile pursuing eminent domain,” said Stephen Taber, a Russian Hill neighbor who helped found San Francisco Next Stop, which advocated for Central Subway construction.

Other sites, he said, would require “residents be relocated, businesses be relocated.” The Pagoda Theater site now is an empty lot.

Taber, who is also an attorney, said to pursue eminent domain on the property, “It has to be sold [to The City] for fair market value, which is what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller in the open market.”

Kirkwood said Campos has been offered $10 million for the site previously, though he bought it for about $4 million in 2004. He thought it was unlikely The City would use eminent domain.

“We’ve heard from SFMTA that they’re not interested in the property,” Kirkwood said.

Taber disagrees, and thinks The City should move to seize the property sooner, rather than later.

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