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Trading an axe for a shovel

Wednesday, Jun 13 2001
Trading an axe for a shovel These days, there are a lot of men pressed against chain-link fences near our SOMA offices. No, it's not because of some massive sting operation or a kinky sex show; there's just a damn lot of construction going on. (Nothing turns a grown man into a wide-eyed boy quicker than big machinery pushing dirt around.) But with the once-ripe rental market now as unnerving as a graveyard at midnight, the owners of all these blossoming sites may want to trade their stocks for "For Rent" signs.

The current lull in the real estate market is even more interesting when you consider that the former Downtown Rehearsal building -- the music practice space in the Bayview that sold for $14 million last October -- still sits unoccupied. Initially, the San Jose-based buyer, JMA Properties, planned to turn around and sell it to a telecommunications company. Since that deal fell through, JMA has been forced to look for other tenants. Not surprisingly, filling the space has proved difficult; meanwhile, 500 bands are without places to practice.

One result of the Downtown eviction was the founding of SoundSafe, a nonprofit organization looking for a suitable rehearsal space for musicians and other artists "who need to make noise." While SoundSafe has been declared the recipient of the $500,000 tenant settlement from former Downtown owner Greg Koch, the organization will need a lot more money if it's going to construct or renovate a building -- a necessity if the group wants to avoid a similar eviction. "We need $5 million for a warehouse space from the ground up," says the company's media contact, Sarah Stabile.

There may be cheaper solutions to the rehearsal-space crisis. For example, Mayor Willie Brown recently mandated that 150,000 square feet of the proposed Pier 70 development be used for arts groups. According to SoundSafe attorney Mark Rennie, however, the largeness of the mandated area is a concern for some builders. "The size of the space is a fly in the ointment," he says. "Only two developers are bidding on it." Luckily, one of them, S.F.'s AMB Property Corp., is a leading owner and operator of industrial real estate nationwide. AMB would deliver the building to a managing body composed of nonprofit tenants -- much the way Fort Mason operates -- with leases running 63 years. Best of all, SoundSafe wouldn't have to worry about finding contractors and architects -- the building would simply be handed to the group. The developer proposals are due by the end of June, with approval expected in August. According to Rennie, AMB says the building could be finished in 18 months (and if you believe that, I've got a Golden Gate Bridge to sell you).

In the long run, the best policy for SoundSafe may be wait-and-see. Organization President Anthony Bonet says, "There's a guy from Bank of America [Senior Vice President Serge Kasarda] on the SoundSafe board, and he's said all along, "Be patient, just wait for the fall.' Maybe we can even get a property in SOMA."

I know a bunch of buildings that will be ripe for the picking.

Heaven's defined a moose There's a homemade video of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" making the rounds that must be seen to be, um, believed ( tributetoamerica/dontstopbelievin.html). Not only does the video capture the local band in all its stone-washed, Afroed finery, but it also includes an animated gator singing a keyboard bit, stink lines rising from a player's armpit, and one member's finger shooting flames onto another member. Throughout, messages flash in red, white, and blue, saying, "Party time!," "Keep fighting for what you believe in," and "Psalm 1:3." And just when you think the whole thing's a drunken Christian conspiracy, along comes Steve Perry warbling "living just to find emotion" over the image of a cartoon moose and the written phrase "heaven's defined a moose" (which is how the video creator first thought the line went.)

The videomaker -- a Boston native who goes by the name "Static" -- has been surprised by his growing notoriety. "I've got a lot of great [responses], and ones that are actually mean and hateful -- telling me I'm what's wrong with the world," Static says via e-mail. "I even had one lady write an entire letter describing her recurring dream where Steve Perry is naked and wrapped in the American flag while eating a tiny clown in her car as she drives through San Fran!"

When asked whether he's poking fun at the band, he tells a story: "Recently, my girlfriend paid over $600 for an autographed copy of Escape for me. She didn't even know if it was authentic, but she didn't care. ... She came to my apartment, I opened it, and we made love all night long while it played on my old hi-fi." Now, that's a true fan.

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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