Shipyard artists promised affordable studios in solar-powered facility

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Artist Paul Gibson in his studio at Building 101 at Hunters Point.
PHOTO COURTESY ARTSPAN

Alarm bells went off last year when a small group of sculptors and painters in Building 101 at the Hunters Point Shipyard artists’ colony – one of the largest artist enclaves on the western seaboard, where even famed poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti has a studio – faced possible loss of affordable studio space.

Some artists who had long occupied low-rent studios were threatened under a shortsighted relocation plan hatched by Lennar, the mega-developer that is undertaking a sprawling mixed-use and residential project spanning 770 acres at Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point.

Fortunately it now seems that the artist colony, which has been there since the 1980s, may face brighter days ahead. Not only were the small number of Building 101 artists spared from eviction, but another group of artists who currently occupy studios in buildings that are slated for demolition under Lennar’s plan have now been promised brand-new art studio space with affordable rents set in perpetuity. 

Commissioners of the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure – better known as the successor agency to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency – will today [Tue/20] consider a final plan for a new shipyard art facility, which is expected to pass. The 87,000 square foot structure would house 130 artists’ studios, plus a gallery space, a kiln room, a spray booth and more. 

The Shipyard Trust for the Arts (STAR), a nonprofit organization that’s represented the Shipyard artists since the mid-1990s, announced in a press statement May 19 that it had approved Lennar’s final building design – and had managed to convince the developer to install solar panels to save energy costs in an effort to keep monthly rental payments at affordable rates.

Under a 2004 agreement, Lennar guaranteed that there would be no net loss of studio space, and a stipulation in Lennar’s development agreement promised that rents in the new studio spaces to accommodate displaced artists would be based on building operating costs only. But even this seemingly minimal threshold would have resulted in a projected 50 percent rent spike for more than half the artists facing relocation. This would have forced some of them off the shipyard, and out of San Francisco by default – dealing yet another blow to the city's arts community.

In the course of a long and arduous negotiating process with Lennar with input from OCII, the shipyard artists proposed that Lennar supply solar energy to the building, which would allow the savings in utility costs to be put toward subsidizing studio rents for artists who would be otherwise forced out.

“That was really outside of their obligations,” noted Amabel Akwa-Asare, OCII assistant project manager, who has been working with Lennar and STAR on behalf of city government.

“It has been a long and difficult process,” said STAR vice president Stacey Carter, “but Lennar has agreed to put solar on the new artists studio building at Hunters Point Shipyard and STAR intends to use that savings to help offset the rents for qualified, low-income artists.”