Nonprofit strikes deal to buy historic Mission District building

MEDA aims to purchase Redstone Labor Temple to keep artists, community groups from displacement

The Mission Economic Development Agency confirmed Thursday that it has agreed on a sale price for the Mission District’s iconic Redstone Labor Temple and is expecting to buy the more than century-old building by midsummer.

The non-profit housing developer has been working to buy the 55,000 square-foot building since longtime landlord David Lucchesi said last year that he was looking to sell, in an effort to protect the artists and nonprofit organization headquartered there from displacement.

The San Francisco Examiner previously reported that Lucchesi was seeking to sell the four-story building at 16th and Capp streets for upwards of $22 million. MEDA’s Community Leadership Development Manager Lucia Obregon told the Examiner previously that a recent appraisal of the building valued it at about $17 million.

It is unclear what kind of financial agreement Lucchesi reached with MEDA, but Karoleen Feng, the organization’s Director of Community Real Estate, described the building as a “cultural asset critical to the Mission District and San Francisco.”

A spokesperson for MEDA confirmed that the organization is engaging “a variety of strategies…to close the financing gap,” and is asking for community support in the form of donations.

“As stated before, MEDA cannot do this alone: the saving of the historic Redstone, as a means to keep artists and nonprofits in place, requires a community-wide effort, including collaboration with City departments and philanthropy for funding,” Feng said.

The building was once home to the oldest gay theater in the United States, Theatre Rhinoceros, which was displaced by a string of rent increases in 2009.

The Examiner previously reported that the Redstone, the former organizing hub for city unions, was constructed and operated by the San Francisco Labor Council Hall Associates in 1914 with a 70 by 62 foot auditorium and its own medical and dental clinics.

A vote that led some 175 unions of the San Francisco Labor Councils to go out on a four-day general strike in 1934 to support waterfront workers was taken in the Redstone’s auditorium.

Since the late 1960s, the Redstone has provided affordable spaces to community serving organizations and artists — current tenants include El/La Para Translatinas, which provides transgender support services to the Latino community; The LAB, an interdisciplinary artists’ organization; and the International Indian Treaty Council, which supports traditional indigenous cultures.

Earlier this year, tenants of the Redstone organized a fundraising campaign that raised more than $9,000.

Following more than a year of negotiations, some tenants of the building were informed of the MEDA purchase on Tuesday, which marked International Workers’ Day. Many had worried about the future of the building given current market forces.

“My mouth dropped,” said a tenant of the building who gave his name as Jonathan.

Next to the Redstone, the 16th Street Bart plaza is pegged for development into more than 300 market-rate apartments. Neighborhood groups are opposing the proposal, which they have dubbed the “Monster in the Mission,” citing concerns over the development’s impact on the community and its potential for accelerating gentrification.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a homeless advocacy organization that operates out of the Redstone, said that it has been a “cool process with all the gentrification happening around us, to see that this community space is now a step closer to being saved.”

“We were like, oh man how will we pull this off?” said Boden. “I have a lot of respect for MEDA, they worked [hard], as did the tenants association.”

Donations to MEDA can be made here.

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