Food kiosk at Coit Tower one step closer to reality

San Francisco’s iconic Coit Tower is one step closer to opening a concession stand.

The Recreation and Park Commission on Thursday unanimously favored amendments to a lease approved last year for the 82-year-old tower, which include allowing a refreshment kiosk as well as for the sale of prepackaged items in the tower’s gift shop for the first time.

The proposed lease amendments will also offer the ability to sell tickets online for the elevator to reach the tower’s observation deck in an effort to alleviate congestion at the tower. Additionally, the tower would be allowed to open an hour early and stay open an hour late to provide times for private tours of the mural that was extensively restored along with the building last year.

The $1.7 million project replaced the mezzanine and rooftop ceilings, restored murals, wired the tower with a new electrical system and made it accessible for people with disabilities.

A mural protection staffing credit of $9,500 is also among the lease amendments to help offset the higher-than-anticipated costs of staffing the tower, particularly those who protect the mural.

The tower’s vendor, Terry Grimm, has previously expressed an interest in selling refreshments at the site. The original lease, approved by the Board of Supervisors last year, allowed for a mobile food cart, but a permanent kiosk was found to be more desirable.

Two San Francisco residents, however, expressed concern at Thursday’s commission meeting over allowing food to be sold inside the tower, particularly after such a widespread effort to restore the mural.

“I understand [the food] is going to be prepackaged … but it raises the question whether small children handed a piece of chocolate can keep from eating it,” said Jon Golinger, chair of the Protect Coit Tower group that opposes some of the lease amendments.

Another resident, Ian Sobieski, said he has walked to the tower almost daily for the past 16 years and believes visitors want fewer obstructed views rather than the option of purchasing food there.

“Selling more calories on top of the hill does not seem to be a priority that ought to involve any of our time,” Sobieski told commissioners Thursday. “People can get their food elsewhere. What they walk up to Coit Tower for is some peace, and some views … and to take in the murals.”

He added, “I oppose the granting of any exemptions that would enable this little blister to be built on top of our beautiful park.”

Commission President Mark Buell said plans to add a refreshment kiosk come after a number of community meetings and outreach.

“I share [the] concern about food being sold in the tower, and I don’t want to change the approval process for this,” he said, “but I would love to talk with the concessionaire about how we try and get some assurance that none of that food will be opened up inside where the murals are.”

The lease amendments must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.