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Kids' center may move in next to porn studio 

Wednesday, Feb 18 2009
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Nothing spells controversy like combining kids and pornography — and apparently San Francisco's Armory is about to have a whole lot of both.

When alternative bondage-porn studio Kink.com bought the historic Mission building for $14.5 million in 2006, picketers arrived on its doorstep, citing everything from women's rights to neighborhood decency as justification for why Kink should pack its whips and handcuffs. Now a private group could stir things up again by leasing from Kink founder Peter Acworth the Armory's "drill court" — a massive interior courtyard that resembles an airplane hangar — and turning it into a community center with youth-oriented programs.

Real estate lawyer David Klein is heading the Armory Community Center project, a for-profit venture he says should be up and running within 18 months. By turning the drill court into a full-time community center, Klein feels he'll be adding something crucial to the Mission: an affordable performance venue, a spot for family events and farmers' markets, and a home for children's sports leagues.

Isn't Klein worried what his Mission neighbors will think of sending their kids to a place right next to a hard-core porn studio? Definitely. "My job is to keep working with the community to break that connection," he says, insisting no ties exist between his project and Kink, which also technically rents its building from Acworth. "We have the same landlord. That's all." To help solidify the divide, Klein is building a separate entrance for the Community Center on the Armory's 14th Street side.

Kink representatives declined to comment about the center. However, as part of a recent free tour of the Armory — which the studio offers to the public once a month — former public relations manager Thomas Roche (Kink, hit hard by the recession like many porn companies, laid off several staffers last week) confirmed plans to see the drill court filled with children playing basketball and soccer. Unfazed by the potential controversy, Roche pointed out that directors are careful to film away from windows, and that almost all rooms are soundproofed. Those kids couldn't see or hear anything, even if they wanted to.

Also declining to comment was Sam Ruiz, executive director of Mission Neighborhood Centers, the community organization that led the picket line against Kink in 2006 and 2007. Klein says he's addressing Ruiz' concerns personally, hoping to persuade Ruiz and other skeptics that he's found a way to put an intriguing building at the heart of a needy neighborhood back to "constructive" use.

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Bonnie Ruberg

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