Sci-Fi tennis players score victory in fight against quitting developer


In April 2021, Alexandria Real Estate did what many local tennis players feared it would do: reneged on a 2016 voluntary deal to rebuild the San Francisco Tennis Club, a staple of SoMa demolished last November for make way for the immense and versatile 88 Bluxome Building.

The tennis club was supposed to be rebuilt on the same land, just several levels underground. Alexandria never accepted this plan out of the kind of heart – it was a hard-won, hard-won concession for the city’s tennis community, which garnered support from local figures including the former mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos. these last years.

In announcing her about-face, Alexandria argued that the tennis club had never been a “significant” part of the 88 Bluxome project and, therefore, its removal from the building plans does not require the approval of the town planning commission. Zoning administrator Corey Teague agreed, although he noted his decision was narrow and did not reflect whether Alexandria’s actions were “appropriate.”

The dissidents of the SF Tennis Club were in disbelief. Seth Socolow, who is leading the effort to keep Alexandria’s word, told SFGATE that Teague’s definition of “important” defies logic. “We believe that the removal of 134,000 square feet of indoor recreation space in a city that has so little of it, especially in SoMa which has almost no recreation space of any kind, is indeed a significant change. “, did he declare.

On Wednesday evening, eight months after Alexandria attempted to withdraw from its part of the deal, Socolow’s side attempted its rebuttal before the San Francisco Appeals Board. And the board, swayed by hours of public commentary and presentations from the city’s tennis community, inflicted a rare defeat on Alexandria (and the multibillion-dollar developers), deeming the sleight of hand. – Alexandria’s pass requires a planning committee meeting – and further, that Zoning Administrator Teague was wrong in his judgment.

The meandering course of the SF Tennis Club up to this point is a story in itself. The SparkNotes version is like this: SoMa’s 24 pitches, built in 1974, were considered a world-class venue that hosted greats like Arthur Ashe and Venus Williams. Full of luxurious amenities, you needed a subscription and it wasn’t cheap: around $ 200 per month. Its current members, who have migrated to a temporary facility at Cow Palace, say their SoMa-based club is nonetheless a community benefit worthy of a real second life; members have been allowed to bring guests, countless public tournaments have been held at the site, and the club has a close relationship with Youth Tennis Advantage, which offers tennis lessons and private lessons to hundreds of underprivileged children . The SF Tennis Club’s advocacy extends to the outdoors as well, members say: When they initially negotiated a deal with Alexandria to rebuild their indoor facilities, they also got $ 864,000 to resurface 20 courts in eight different outdoor locations in the city.

“It’s not just about their own tennis membership,” said Agnos, who has advised SF Tennis Club members since 2016, told SFGATE. “It’s about contributing to the city, not only by physically improving all of these facilities, but also by offering programs to give poor children a chance to play tennis. “

Wednesday’s Appeal Board meeting demonstrated the strength of the SF Tennis Club’s growing coalition. A 9-year-old recounted meeting her best friends on the SoMa site. An 80-year-old woman said the club has been an essential part of her life for decades. Brad Gilbert, a former pro who coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, has given the club rave reviews. Several speakers broke down in tears describing the relationship they have had at the club over the years. It was an impressive performance except for one speaker, who identified himself as #SavePengShuai and argued that the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Peng Shuai, a professional tennis player who has accused a party official of sexual assault, and has since been heard only sparingly from, akin to Alexandria’s treatment of San Francisco tennis players.

Alexandria’s defense relied on its own questionable claims. John Kevlin, the attorney representing the real estate developer, argued that abandoning the reconstruction of the tennis club was no different from leaving an underground parking lot. During the public comment, a high school student responded with a laugh that “we are not a parking lot.”

When questioned by the Appeal Board, Kevlin said Alexandria’s decision was made in the wake of the pandemic and a significant shift in office footfall, a key aspect of the original idea behind 88 Bluxome. “Absolutely, financial considerations came into play,” Kevlin said. He pointed out that flagship tenant Pinterest, which initially signed a long-term lease for 50% of 88 Bluxome, pulled out of the deal in August 2020, a sign that the “market is moving forward.”

The Board of Appeal was not influenced by this argument. On the one hand, Pinterest generously paid Alexandria – nearly $ 90 million – to break her lease. SF Tennis Club attorney Anthony Giles has shown separately that Alexandria’s stock market valuation is near an all-time high. The developer does not mitigate massive losses; he is just worried about his profit margins, argue club defenders.

“Boards measure success by the profit you make on a transaction,” Agnos told SFGATE. “They did the math in cold blood that it was worth it for them [to remove the courts]for the profit they plan to make in this facility.

A screenshot of Alexandria Real Estate’s share price over the decades.

Google screenshot

In the end, the board ruled 4-0 in favor of referral of this battle to the Planning Commission on a date yet to be determined. Their decision doesn’t change many realities for tennis players in San Francisco: after the demolition of the SF Tennis Club, there are no more indoor tennis courts in the city, and there won’t be any before. quite a while. There is no guarantee that the Planning Commission will side with the tennis fans, and if the commission does, it will only be after a long battle over a lot more legal jargon and technical details.

But the board’s decision helps to level the playing field a little bit more level.

“We’re dealing with a multi-billion dollar company, and these guys are notorious for renegotiating and failing to honor their commitments,” Socolow said. “But any significant change forces them to go back for full approval of the project. Basically we are starting from square one.

So far, that’s pretty good.

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