Recreation boosters rally around battle to save tennis club

Members want to stop plan to replace SoMa courts with market-rate condos, retail

Members of a private tennis club in the South of Market area are fighting to prevent a developer from demolishing their courts and say recreational facilities throughout San Francisco are under siege by development.

The Michigan-based Pulte Homes developer has plans to demolish the San Francisco Tennis Club at Fifth and Brannan streets to build 500 market-rate condominiums and nearly 14,000 square feet of retail on the 2.6-acre site. The development includes four six-story buildings 85 feet high.

ClubCorp, a Dallas-based sports club operator, put the property on the market after receiving an unsolicited offer two years ago.

A group of members of the 31-year-old tennis club say the facility is an important part of The City’s stock of recreational spots. Losing it to development would only perpetuate the trend of development shutting down recreational places, members say.

Supervisor Fiona Ma introduced legislation Tuesday that could shield the tennis club and other recreational spots from the pressures of development.

The legislation would require any development that would reduce or change recreational spaces of more than 5,000 square feet to undergo a hearing before the Planning Commission. The requirement would remain in effect for 18 months, during which time more permanent legislation would likely be drafted. The hearing requirement would be lifted if a developer agrees to incorporate the same amount of recreational services within the project. The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee is expected to vote on the legislation Nov. 15.

“Tennis courts, swimming pools and bowling centers are just some of the places San Franciscans rely on to remain healthy. Yet the pressures of development often force out these facilities. We’ve already lost the bowling centers at Japantown and at Haight and Stanyan [streets]. Now tennis clubs and swimming pools face the same fate,” Ma said. “Neighbors deserve at least a hearing before the Planning Commission before their recreation centers are eliminated.”

Pulte Homes downplayed what could be the loss of the club. Emphasizing that the facility is a private club, David Prowler, a Pulte Homes consultant, said, “We’re not sure that a private, members-only club meets the needs of public recreation.” He also questioned The City’s need for the club’s 24 tennis courts.

“The fact is that you can’t have a neighborhood unless you have a place to work, live and play — that’s quality of life,” said Kris Schaeffer, a tennis club member. Schaeffer said the club is open to nonmembers for tennis clinics and also offers a tutoring program for at-risk youth. Should the club close down, Schaeffer said the 1,500 members would be hard-pressed to play tennis elsewhere since city courts are usually full.

“San Francisco recreation is at siege,” Schaeffer said.

The Pulte Homes development remains under review by the Planning Department.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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