Presidio Trust Nixes Development Plans for Mid-Crissy Field

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By Neil Gonzales

A definitive plan to build a new San Francisco cultural landmark seemed close at hand until last week for a prime piece of Presidio property that opens up to a spectacular bay panorama punctuated by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. In late 2012, the Presidio Trust asked for proposals for the development of Mid-Crissy Field, and a few months later, three finalists emerged out of 16 submissions.

[contextly_sidebar id=”c087ddcd15d9763c20d57ab4a4c7f2df”]Those three—the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, Bridge/Sustainability Institute and Presidio Exchange—were distinct from one another, but all tried to conform with the trust’s stringent requirements that the project be compatible with the surrounding natural setting, provide vital programs that connect with the city’s cultural vibrancy and be economically viable, among other conditions.

Yet all three fell short of those goals when the trust, a federal agency established to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the Presidio, ended the planning process during a Feb. 3 news conference without choosing a winner.

The trust announced it did not believe any of the three—while excellent plans in and of themselves—proved fitting for the location. The trust has not elaborated on any of the finalists’ specific shortcomings, although a previous public statement outlined some of the problems that the agency had with each, including architectural, financing and programmatic concerns.

The across-the-board rejection left questions of whether the site will be developed at all. But it is clear that the trust wants to push back a decision on any potential development until after the Presidio Parkway is expected to be finished in 2016 as some influential voices like the National Park Service have recommended. Begun in late 2009, the parkway project will create a new regional gateway between the city and Golden Gate Bridge, tucking a re-envisioned Doyle Drive into a tunnel topped by green space.

“There definitely was a contingent that said we should wait until construction of the Presidio Parkway is completed,” trust spokeswoman Dana Polk said. “I think that made sense to the board. They want to get a sense of how the site will work and look after the construction is done.”

After the road reconstruction is over, Polk said, the trust could reopen a request for proposals for Mid-Crissy Field—a site identified in the agency’s management plan for a cultural institution. “But we don’t necessarily have to build anything there either,” she said.

Currently, the site is leased to the Sports Basement retail store, which is expected to move out by about the time the parkway is completed.

While the trust did not choose any of the three finalists, it remains willing to work with each team on projects somewhere else in the Presidio. It has invited, for instance, the group headed by famed “Star Wars” director George Lucas to build his museum next to his Letterman Digital Arts Center, which houses his film company’s corporate offices and special-effects and game departments.

“I am optimistic that we can find a path for bringing his exceptional digital museum proposal, including his passion for education, to the park,” trust board Chairwoman Nancy Hellman Bechtle said in a statement.

Lucas spokesman David Perry said the team is just starting to weigh this new invitation but also has offers from elsewhere. “A number of other potential locations already understand the unique and unprecedented philanthropy as well as the educational and other opportunities offered by this museum,” Perry said.

The Lucas proposal at Mid-Crissy Field called for an interactive museum dedicated to the art of illustrations, animation and filmmaking. Out of the three finalists, the Lucas team sounded the most put off by the trust’s decision not to name a plan for the site.

“Repeatedly over the last four years of this process, we’ve been told that location was the only option for such a building,” Perry said. “So, to not only be one of the three finalists that was denied access to the site but then, literally, at the 11th hour to be told there was an alternate, hitherto unidentified site in the Presidio certainly did catch all of us by surprise.”

The Bridge/Sustainability Institute plan proposed by the team led by architectural firm WRNS Studio would have featured rooftop gardens, rotating exhibits, event space, a café and a market. The Presidio Exchange from the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy would have created a park, museum and an interactive space all in one.

Both the Bridge/Sustainability Institute and Presidio Exchange teams expressed disappointment in the trust’s decision but struck a more understanding tone. They also welcomed future collaboration with the trust.

“We are incredibly honored to have been a part of this competition,” said Jeff Warner, the head architect at WRNS Studio. “We hope that our concept helped elevate the public discourse about what the Presidio—and this treasured site—can and should be. We look forward to our continued participation helping to shape the Presidio’s future.”

David Shaw, spokesman for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, said his agency had been prepared for the outcome that did happen because the trust “had always retained the option to forgo selecting any of the proposals.”

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