Traffic, shadows loom over museum project

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerMission: The Mexican Museum and housing tower would sit across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Plans for a new 47-story building at the corner of Third and Mission streets could inject new life into the Mexican Museum’s long hunt for a permanent home — if traffic and the proposed tower’s massive shadows don’t get in the way.

Millennium Partners’ $170 million proposal for 706 Mission St. includes four floors of space for the museum, 215 residential units, office space and restoration of the historic Aronson Building, built in 1903. The Planning Commission is set to consider today whether the design’s drawbacks, including increased gridlock and shadows reaching all the way to Union Square, override the benefits.

If approved by the commission, the Board of Supervisors and other city agencies, the project would allow the museum to join a cadre of cultural outlets near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora. The Mexican Museum debuted in 1975 in the Mission district, but has been holed up for years at Fort Mason awaiting a permanent home.

“Yerba Buena has emerged as a really exciting neighborhood,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, which has offices near the site. “What we have, finally, is a really neat mix of cultural uses, offices, housing and public space.”

The site would provide 10,000 square feet of space for the museum’s 12,000-piece collection, which includes art from the pre-conquest days to the present. That’s triple its current size. Museum officials didn’t return calls for comment.

Residents in the new 550-foot tower would park in the current Jessie Square Garage. Most of the options for getting cars in and out of that garage would worsen area traffic. which is already some of The City’s most congested.

In addition, shadows from the behemoth could cast darkness on Union Square, a quarter-mile away, or even Boeddeker Park a half-mile away. Both parks have limits on how much more shadow they’re allowed; Boeddeker isn’t allowed any.

The project has sparked little public outcry since it was unveiled. “I’m curious what the public comments will be,” said Planning Commission Chairman Rodney Fong. “I think it’s a good reuse of that corner. I think the building and museum will complement the Yerba Buena Center, SFMOMA and the downtown financial area.”

About 706 Mission St.

  • What: Mexican Museum and residential tower
  • Developer: Millennium Partners
  • Proposed height: 550 feet, 47 stories
  • Space for museum: 10,000 square feet
  • Residential units: 215
  • Tallest building nearby: St. Regis Hotel and Residences, 685 Mission St., 484 feet
  • Planned groundbreaking: 2013
  • Planed completion: 2016

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