Thursday, May 17, 2012

Harding Theater update

Photo by Liz Hafalia for the SF Chronicle

Community Forum
We had a great turnout at our community forum last week, where we shared our vision and strategy for purchasing, planning, and programming the Harding Theater (we estimated a total of 100 people over the 3 hour span and 40 or so during the presentation/Q and A). Special thanks to everyone who volunteered/tabled/donated items to the raffle, including SF Heritage, ASNA, Thinkwalks, The Wigg Party, BiRite, Madrone, Rare Device, Little Otsu, Plant'it Earth, and San Franpsycho. 

Here is some footage of the community forum by Divis neighbor Kevin Barnard.

Vision and Strategy
Neighbors Developing Divisadero is dedicated towards learning from the past to address current development needs and issues of the neighborhood through innovative, enriching and inclusive neighborhood development. We have developed a transparent and collaborative vision and strategy for revitalizing the Harding Theater that has taken into account all the major stakeholders and the recent development history of the Harding. NDDivis was not involved in the past efforts to save the theater from being demolished, but we have built off of past and present community interest and concerns to develop the first coordinated effort to purchase, rehabilitate, and operate the Harding Theater in the public trust. 

Take a look at an overview of our vision and strategy. Keep in mind that we will be hammering out details until our July 1st launch (meaning that your input is still welcome to help shape the details of our membership, programming, and design plans). Stay tuned for more information regarding our rehabilitation and operations cost analysis. 

Project Overview/Timeline
(1) NDDivis is on track to have our nonprofit incorporated by July and then receive 501(c)3 tax exempt status within the following 4-6 months (we are very close to partnering with an established 501(c)3 to act as our interim fiscal agent). Note that if we attain a pledge letter from someone stating that they will donate $10K, we can expedite the process.  Amy Farah Weiss (M.A. Organizational Development) will serve as Board President, with the support of noted leaders in the local nonprofit management field including Dr. Jennifer Shea (SF State) and Renato Almanzor (LeaderSpring). We are currently identifying potential Divis neighbors/Divis neighborhood supporters with the right skill-set, guiding values, and passion to fill the position of Board Treasurer and Secretary (let us know if you would like to be considered or have someone in mind).

(2) We have developed a very detailed/innovative online crowdfunding fundraising campaign that will offer a variety of membership packages with opportunities ranging from low/mid-income to large donors (all will be tax deductible and the money will be reimbursed if we don't meet our goal to purchase the theater). We will launch our campaign via our new website on July 1st and it will run until December 31st. If the community is unable to purchase the space by December 31st it will most likely mean that the city will renegotiate with the developers on the property. It may very well be that this is the community's last chance to step up and take part in shaping our future. 

(3) Our strategy for a community-owned venue includes developing founding partnerships between local artists/emerging entrepreneurs/community builders (200), community-based organizations (20), local businesses (30), and local government (10). We have a number of artists, community-based orgs, and a couple of city departments already interested in partnering with us for fundraising and future programming. Our project is currently supported by orgs/businesses such as Artspace, staff from SF Rec & Parks, NOPNA, Architecture for Humanity, Sparkart, Bi-Rite, and JK Antiques. If you are interested in participating in partnership outreach building or becoming a founding partner, please contact us at

(4) Purchasing the theater = site control. We need site control in order to conduct thorough assessments, apply for rehabilitation tax credits, develop formalized partnerships for programming/rentals with the city, local orgs, and local businesses, and attain funding from foundations.

(5) As soon as we purchase the theater we will immediately start transforming the side lot into a garden and taking off the boards and putting art in the windows (aka de-blighting will happen as soon as January 2013). After attaining site control, the next steps will be to launch our second capital campaign to rehab the structure, which we are planning in stages and will cost somewhere in the range of $2-3.5 million (Mark Topetcher's previous assessment of rehabilitation costs for the 2005-2008 project was in the ballpark of $1.5 million, which included seismic upgrades, an elevator, ADA bathrooms, and partitioning off of retail spaces). As mentioned, we will be able to more easily attain foundation funding, formalize city partnerships, and attract large donors once we own the property, as well as use the property as equity for a long-term loan. We do not anticipate needing to conduct an EIR due to the superficial and easily reversible renovations that we propose for the structure (the 2005-2008 plan was appealed to require an EIR because when the Planning Commission became concerned that the renovation proposals would irreversibly impact the Harding, which is not allowed due to its status as a historic resource). We are working diligently with local government to grease the wheels for our project to move forward in a timely fashion once we obtain site control.

(6) The Harding will be revitalized as an incubator and showcase multi-use venue for creativity, emerging entrepreneurship, and civic engagement. We will provide in-house, outside, and partner programming for each of the major areas of the venue (see attached PDF for an overview).  

Be a YIMBY, not a NIMBY
It's easy to say what you don't want in your backyard or come up with a long list of challenges that we will face in moving forward with our vision. We are looking for people who will say "Yes! This project is just what I want to see in my neighborhood and I want to be part of investing in a positive development for my community." There are many challenges and hurdles we have faced and will continue to face, but NDDivis is in this for the long haul. We are looking for people who see challenges as problems to be solved, because the only way forward is to deal with them. 
In community,

Amy Farah Weiss
Neighbors Developing Divisadero (
Harding Theater Revitalization Project


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