Noe Valley Voice May 2013

Money for Town Square, Squared

Open Space Fund Gives Green Light to 24th Street Park

By Heather World

Central Park.  The Recreation and Park Commission has recommended the city buy the parking lot at 24th and Vicksburg streets for use as a town square featuring trees, benches, children’s play areas, and space for the Noe Valley Farmers Market.  Rendering courtesy CMG Landscape Architecture (Click image for full-resolution PDF file.)


Neighbors who hope to create a town square in the parking lot at 24th and Vicksburg streets had a spring in their step last month.

Why so happy? The city looks set to purchase the lot, eliminating a $2 million fundraising challenge for town square supporters.

 “That is the big relief,” said Todd David, spokesperson for the group Residents for Noe Valley Town Square ­(RNVTS), which has been working with Recreation and Park Department officials for over a year to turn the lot into a public gathering space.

Planners envision a park with trees and a long trellis for shade, built-in and moveable seating, gardens, children’s play areas, and possibly a stage and a restroom. The space would be flexible enough to accommodate the popular Noe Valley Farmers Market, as well as music performances and other large gatherings.

Earlier this year, park department staff were ready to recommend that $2 million from the city’s Open Space Acquisition Fund go toward the lot’s estimated $3.9 million price tag, with the RNVTS raising the rest.

But the amount more than doubled last month, after the department realized that if the entire property were owned by the city by July 1, the lot would qualify for significant state grant money to pay for conversion to a park.

At an April 17 meeting attended by more than a dozen town square supporters, the Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously to approve $4.2 million for acquisition of the lot.

David was delighted with the victory. “It takes that crunch out of ‘oh my God, if we don’t purchase this, someone else is going to,’” he said.

There was more good news. The allotment included $342,500 that will go toward giving the parking lot a thorough environmental scrubbing, once the asphalt is torn up and soil is excavated.

The lot is currently owned by the Noe Valley Ministry, which needs to raise an estimated $3.3 million for renovation of its gothic building at Sanchez and 23rd streets. Until its closure for remodeling three years ago, the Ministry had long housed community groups in addition to the congregation.

“This is a double bonus for Noe Valley,” David said. “The money is going to a Noe Valley institution that serves the community, and we’re going to be able to do this open space.”

Lining up Ducks

RNVTS has spent the past two years hustling small donations, working a booth at the Saturday farmer’s market, and gathering pledges from neighbors. However, the group faced an uphill battle: not only did they need to buy the land, they needed to pay for a makeover of the lot, which was once a gas station.

Last fall, State Senator Mark Leno spotted town square volunteers at the farmer’s market and turned them on to the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program, a state fund used for urban greening projects.

The looming deadline for applications to the final round of grant money spurred a flurry of activity. Working with the park department, RNVTS’s Kate Sherwood and Leslie Crawford applied for a $723,000 grant to offset the estimated $2 million remodeling cost of the project. (The nearly $500,000 pledged by supporters thus far will also go toward the conversion.) Town square designer Chris Guillard of CMG Landscape Architecture tweaked plans vetted by the public last year to better attract the state grant money (see page 1).

At the same time, RNVTS kept moving through the process to win board approval. Now that the Recreation and Park Commission has approved the purchase, the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee will consider it May 22 before passing on a recommendation to the board itself, which is expected June 4.

If the purchase goes through, the park department would be responsible for maintenance, but David is hoping funds from the Noe Valley Farmers Market will be added. The difference between the weekly rent the market pays now to the Noe Valley Ministry and the annual permit fee it would pay to the park department nets several thousand dollars in savings, which potentially could be used to assist with the general upkeep of the town square, David said.

 A Church for the Arts

Meanwhile, the Ministry has been closed since November 2010 in anticipation of its renovation. Originally, the church’s plans called for a worship space custom-made for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but that idea had to be discarded after finding partners proved too difficult, said Karen Heather, chair of the design review committee for the congregation.

“Then we went back to the drawing board,” she said. The new design envisions the church as a place of religious worship and devotion to the arts.

The worship area will be toward the back of the building. The “outer hall,” toward the front, will have an inlaid labyrinth. A door between the two can open to expand the space for performances.

Some features, like theatrical lighting and a commercial-grade kitchen, had to be nixed for cost reasons, she said, but that hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the project.

“The congregation is really excited at this point about it starting,” said Heather, who has been with the Ministry for 12 years. Construction at 1021 Sanchez St. is scheduled to begin May 14.

The church is able to start renovations before the sale of the parking lot because it has a loan from its parent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said Chris Keene, a member of the congregation and one of the RNVTS organizers. Still, that loan will need to be re-paid.

Supervisor Likes Chances

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said he thinks the sale will go through.

“I think we have good support on the board,” he said. A number of his colleagues have expressed support publicly or privately, to him and to the Parks Alliance, the department’s nonprofit partner.

The city’s Open Space Fund has about $11 million at present and grows by about $1.5 million each year, according to the park department.

“We’re in a fortunate situation where [the fund] hasn’t been tapped in a long time, has accumulated a sizeable amount of money, and will continue to accrue,” Wiener said.

Keene said he would feel more confident if he’d seen a deal like this pass the Board of Supervisors before, but he is hopeful.

“If there’s something that trips it up here, then we’ll keep on working on it,” he said.