House Republicans delivered a gut-punch to their nemesis Nancy Pelosi Thursday with a proposed $15 million cut in funding for the Presidio, a national park that's long been Pelosi's pet project.
In order to wean itself off federal funding, the former U.S. Army base has become a bizarre hodgepodge of commercial office space, residential rental property, and movie-production studios, nestled among swaths of public recreational space since being made a park in 1998.
The $15 million shortfall won't immediately jeopardize the Presidio's self-sufficiency plans. But Pelosi's success or failure in delivering federal money to the park will determine whether the Presidio will be able to achieve its goal of becoming a historical monument and recreational destination, or instead continue on the path to becoming a mere office park located on federal land.
Current forecasts estimate that the Presidio Trust, the nonprofit organization that runs the park, will this year take in $73.3 million, with $11 million left over after expenses. The Presidio had expected to receive $17.5 million in federal appropriations. The federal money, and the $11 surplus, were slated for repair of old military buildings on the former base.
So this year's possible $15 million cut in federal funds "won't have a major effect, but we might have to push back some projects to later dates," said Trust spokeswoman Dana Polk.
The Presidio got a recent windfall in
the form of $63 million pledged by sponsors of the Presidio Parkway
project, as recompense for parkland to be taken up by the widened
freeway. Trustees are also considering a possible hotel project that
might further fortify the park's bottom line.
Notwithstanding, a long-term cutoff of federal money will mean San Francisco ends up with something different than the historical oasis envisioned when Congress turned the Army base into a national park in 1996.
Back then, posters and other materials touting the new park featured the 1890s colonial revival style Montgomery Street Barracks along the Main Post parade ground. The original hope was to lure paying tenants to help fund restoration of the base's prime historical buildings, and thus turn the Main Post into the heart and soul of a national destination for travelers interested in military history.
The template for these restorations was the Disney Family Museum, which opened in 2009 in one of the six red barracks buildings. But with a cost of $110 million, that restoration project was not a good portent for the rest of seismically-unstable buildings.
Because the old brick buildings are so decrepit, restorationists must essentially build a new building inside each of the old barracks while also retrofitting the historic shell.
"That is the most expensive type of construction you can do," said Richard Hanlin, a construction contractor who did extensive work on Presidio buildings when it was still a military base. "I think there's a clear possibility that over time, because those buildings are so unattractive to the private sector, the Main Post buildings will not be occupied."
The Trust's most recent annual reports boasts of $80 million to be spent on overall base repairs, with $21 million slated to help fix barracks buildings. When done, the barracks will house "a mix of retail, food service, and office space uses," the report said.
However, with federal spending cut off, and windfalls such as the freeway and Disney money, unlikely to reappear, it could be many years before the Presidio's prime historical buildings are restored.
In the meantime, we'll see proposals for hotels and other money-making schemes at odds with Pelosi's original 1990s legislative goal of producing a national park worth traveling to.
When Pelosi was at the height of her political power in 2008, she passed legislation scrapping a federal law that said the Presidio had to be sold to the highest bidder if it didn't become self-sufficient by 2013.
With the $15 million funding cut, Republicans seem out for revenge.
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