Walls of a bar and art gallery that were once covered with paintings, sketches and sculptures are now empty as uncertainty about plans to rebuild a transit center takes its toll on local businesses.
More than 30 businesses will be displaced by the multibillion-dollar rebuild of the Transbay Transit Center at First and Mission streets, and several nightspots on Natoma Street will be among the first to disappear.
The JohnColins Lounge, Zebulon restaurant and bar and Varnish Fine Art gallery and wine bar were told last year they would need to vacate their buildings by the end of this month.
But recently, the popular haunts were told by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority they could remain until Jan. 31.
Varnish has rejected hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of group bookings because it expected to be evicted this month, according to co-founder Jen Rogers.
She said Varnish has refused to sign paperwork agreeing to the eviction because the authority offered only $80,000 compensation for business losses, known as loss of goodwill, in addition to relocation reimbursement. Varnish’s appraisers calculated the loss of goodwill at more than $400,000, Rogers said.
The JohnColins Lounge, which plans to relocate to Minna Street in November, is also disputing its offer for loss of goodwill, according to co-owner John Guiffre.
The authority indicated in a Sept. 15 letter to the businesses that they must sign the agreements if they want to continue operating at their current locations next month.
Without reaching an agreement, Rogers said Varnish can’t afford to relocate.
“We can’t find a place that we could move into without our relocation benefits and a proper loss of goodwill,” she said. “We really are just being run out of business.”
Authority spokesman Adam Alberti said it’s important to reach agreements with the businesses.
“No government agency can simply hand over resources without all of the deal points being agreed to,” he said.
Artists have volunteered to create pieces commemorating the pending destruction of Varnish’s site, such as a wrecking ball bursting through a wall and a tombstone.
The pieces will be displayed at Varnish before being sold to help recover legal fees and other costs associated with the gallery’s demise, according to Rogers.
Pols endorse train station
A bid to build a train station under the Transbay Transit Center using federal funds gained powerful political support.
Transbay Joint Powers Authority directors voted in June to delay completion of the new transit center until 2016 so a subterranean station for Caltrain and bullet trains could be included.
Directors also voted to apply for $400 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to build the station.
If that money is not awarded next month, the authority plans to indefinitely postpone train station construction and forge ahead with a $1.2 billion bus terminal and park.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote last week to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in support of the $400 million in stimulus funds.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is investigating alternative station locations in San Francisco for bullet trains, but Pelosi and Schwarzenegger underscored their support for a Transbay terminus for high-speed rail.
— John Upton