Coit Tower vendor proposes new concession kiosk to help with costs

Jessica Kwong/the s.f. examinerTerry Grimm

Coit Tower reopened in its restored fashion in May with a new vendor who neighbors and city officials agree has much-improved operations at the landmark. But a newly proposed concession stand has become a source of contention.

A food and beverage service was removed from the Recreation and Park Department contract for vendor Terry Grimm to allow him to begin his facility and gift shop operations in conjunction with the iconic tower's reopening following months of renovation. Five months in operation, however, Grimm said the 10 percent in revenue he receives from elevator ticket sales is not enough to sustain his business, resulting in an shortfall of $10,000 per month.

As a potential solution, Grimm has proposed opening a semi-permanent concession kiosk that could be taken down in 24 hours, which he believes would allow him to generate enough revenue. He said he is currently only making enough to pay four of the six employees he has working at the tower at a given time.

“I think people left unimpressed a couple years ago,” Grimm said about the tower operations before he took over. “We're trying to make the experience just as good as possible to people and there's a cost to that.”

Keeping with mural descriptions and gift shop items reflecting a North Beach flavor, Grimm proposes a 9-by-12-foot kiosk offering panini sandwiches, gelato, San Pellegrino drinks and similar items on the east side of the parking lot covering a portion of the bleachers. Elevator tickets would also be available for purchase there, alleviating congestion inside the tower.

“It's fairly convenient for the vendor to service and meets [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements,” Cassandra Costello, a property manager for Rec and Park, said at a community meeting Thursday evening at the Joe DiMaggio Playground clubhouse.

However, a handful of neighbors had qualms with the planned kiosk.

Jon Golinger, chairman of Protect Coit Tower, expressed concern that the kiosk would attract nighttime vandalism and that a removable food cart or truck would be a better option. He said he would like to see an additional 10 percent of elevator revenue funds go toward Grimm's operations instead, but Costello said the percentage could not be amended without re-bidding the lease.

“This is the first time in Coit Tower's 80-year history that a full-fledged structure on the site has been built separate from the tower itself,” Golinger said.

Louis Silcox, who has lived within a block of the tower for more than 25 years, said he was speaking for 15 to 20 residents when saying that the kiosk would be a nuisance there.

“We don't think it's fair for us who have worked hard to pay rent or mortgage, to have it hanging right over our house,” he said.

Following this first community meeting on the issue, the department will work on kiosk renderings at its current proposed site, a location slightly north, and potentially other spots, Costello said.

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