When I first toured the abandoned Armory nearly a decade ago, I was captivated by its history and its grandeur. But it was the centerpiece of the building, the old Armory Drill Court — a space once known as the Madison Square Garden of the West — that truly captured my imagination. Last summer, our massive restoration of this historic space was finally completed, and with great pride I announced that it would finally open to the public.
Unfortunately, the Armory Drill Court is currently seen by the City as a PDR use (“Production, Distribution, and Repair”). We have an application pending with the city to change this use to “Entertainment,” which would allow us to make it a full time public event space. While we wait for this application to be approved, we are restricted to hosting only one event per calendar month.
Despite this temporary and very restrictive permit, we have nevertheless hosted several events over the past few years, including the anarchist book fair, a Gay Pride celebration, two New Year’s Eve parties, Rollerderby tournaments, a benefit for Hack Cancer, and a fundraiser for AIDS Emergency Fund. We even worked with the Mayor’s Office on an event to provide dental care to the homeless.
However, the restriction to one event per month is not sustainable. We have had to turn down any event that spans more than twenty-four hours, such as a sporting tournament, or a weekend flea market. No business can function in this manner. It is only because the remainder of the building has other uses that the plan to resurrect the Drill Court as a public venue still has legs.
Astonishingly, Prop I will block any change of use away from PDR, including the Armory Drill Court. Thus, for eighteen months and up to thirty, the plans to open the Drill Court to the public will be frozen.
I believe the Mission construction moratorium is well intentioned. We’re all looking for ways to preserve the diverse cultural life of this city. But the City’s Office of Economic Analysis has concluded that this Prop will only make the housing shortage worse, furthering Ellis Act evictions and driving rent in the city upward more quickly.
This Armory is the single biggest building in the Mission, as well as one of the most most significant. It is the striking ‘gateway’ iconic landmark that marks the entrance to the Mission. The effect of Prop I will result in the antithesis of the intention of Prop I. What is ‘gentrification’ if not the killing of a community and the loss of our culture? What is gentrification if not the elimination of living wage jobs? The Armory Drill court will generate hundreds of such jobs, part on-site, part by those promoters renting the space, and part as a result of spill over of positive effects to the local small business community.
I aim to bring back the Madison Square Garden of the West to the people of San Francisco as a matter of right. That is why I am fighting Prop I with everything I have left to fight with. It is bad policy, a mistake for the Mission and a mistake for this city.