University of San Francisco to tackle future of old Muni substation on Fillmore

A hulking brick building owned by The City has remained vacant through the controversial redevelopment of the Fillmore Jazz District, and it will remain that way for at least another year.

Money once meant to refurbish the old Muni substation located at Fillmore and Turk streets will be now be used to fund a University of San Francisco program to help assess the future of the building. The program isn’t expected to be completed until December, meaning new proposals for the graffiti-­covered building won’t come for at least a year, according to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Monika Hudson, an assistant professor at USF, said master’s students and undergraduates will work with the community group Brothers for Change to assess the costs of fixing the dilapidated structure and create a vision for the future.

“It’s very ambitious,” Hudson said. “Not only are we working with our students, but they would be working with people in the community.

Mayor Ed Lee, who walked past the building Thursday with the district’s supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi, remained positive about the fate of the building, which has failed to attract interest from developers despite years of efforts at redevelopment. He pointed to a new park next door that was thriving with people in the sunshine.

“I see much more positive change,” Lee said. The little park down there that the public utilities owned, I was here a few years ago and it was in pretty bad shape. They’ve really cleaned it up and people are enjoying it.”

But for merchants who spoke with the mayor, the building still represents a lost opportunity.

“Why don’t they build something across the street there to help the kids?” said Mohammad Isbeih, 65, the owner of Third World Market.

The post-World War II Fillmore was the center of The City’s thriving black community. But as areas became run down around Fillmore Street, the Redevelopment Agency stepped in to tear down houses and replace them with housing projects.

The redevelopment took decades, and many black residents never returned. In the 1990s, the Redevelopment Agency attempted to salvage some of that history by funding several jazz-themed restaurants, such as Yoshi’s, Rasselas and 1300 on Fillmore.

Some of that money was meant to refurbish the vacant Muni substation and turn it into a school for jazz. The Redevelopment Agency bought the century-old building, which once housed large electricity-generating turbines for streetcars, from The City in 2003 for $900,000.

But the agency failed to find a developer interested in the project, and it spent millions of dollars that had been set aside for it to subsidize Yoshi’s. In 2009, The City bought back the building.

Examiner Staff Photographer Mike Koozmin contributed to this story

Bay Area NewsdevelopmentLocalPlanningUniversity of San FranciscoUSF

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