SAN FRANCISCO, (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — In a hearing room packed with supporters, the San Francisco Board of Appeals voted on Wednesday night to uphold a ruling by San Francisco’s Zoning Administrator that the Nob Hill Masonic Center was constructed as an assembly and entertainment venue, and has operated lawfully since opening its doors in 1958. The Board of Appeals decision sets the stage for the San Francisco Planning Commission to review a Conditional Use application on February 11, 2010.
On September 10, 2009, San Francisco’s Zoning Administrator issued a ruling, or Letter of Determination (LOD), confirming the Masonic’s lawful status. The Determination was appealed by the Gramercy Tower Condominium Association, the 1200 California Street Corporation (two nearby condominiums built after the Masonic Center opened in 1958) and the Nob Hill Legal Coalition. The appellants oppose public uses of the Masonic Center and are attempting to shutter the facility and end 51 years of continuous operations at this important cultural venue by a broad range of entertainment and assembly users.
Numerous local and regional organizations and individuals, including comedian Danny DeVito, the San Francisco School District, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, SFJazz, Youth Speaks!, UCSF Nursing School, Theatrical Stage Employees Local 16, and Pixar wrote letters or testified about their use of the building over the past decades and its critical role as a mid-size venue for arts and cultural events, concerts, graduations and business meetings. The project itself has attracted thousands of supporters from San Francisco and the Bay Area.
“We have been managing operations at the Masonic Center for almost one year without incident,” said Live Nation Chairman Lee Smith. “In fact, since we’ve taken over, we’ve greatly improved parking and traffic issues on Nob Hill, while at the same time bringing top-name performers, such as David Gray and Steely Dan, to the venue.”
In 2008, the Masonic Center selected Live Nation to professionally manage and produce all Center events and performances. Live Nation is planning to upgrade the Auditorium, California Room, and lobby to provide a fresh face to a 50 year old, iconic San Francisco venue. Live Nation has applied for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to make the upgrades, including installation of new kitchen equipment and concession areas to facilitate higher end food and beverage service for event attendees.
Additionally, the fixed seating on the main floor of the auditorium will be removed and replaced with terraced floor levels to accommodate seated and standing viewing, as well as cabaret and table seating. The fixed seating in the balcony will remain. The capacity of the building will also remain the same. In addition to live entertainment and an annual Freemasons of California convention, the Masonic Center will continue to host other community events, such as graduations, naturalization ceremonies, exhibitions, corporate meetings and private get-togethers as it has since opening its doors in 1958.
In response to Live Nation’s plans, a group of neighbors formed a legal coalition determined to close down the Masonic and prevent it from holding any events other than a single annual Masonic gathering, regardless of the center’s history and value to the City as a cultural and entertainment venue.
In response to more reasonable neighborhood concerns, the Masonic Center and Live Nation have developed and agreed to a set of 41 proposed permanent conditions of approval that directly address traffic, bus parking, loading, noise, and security, among other issues, and that Live Nation has committed to implement. “Conditions of Approval are legally binding conditions of the Conditional Use Permit we are seeking,” said attorney Steven L. Vettel, land use counsel for the Masonic Center and Live Nation.
The next hearing for the project is scheduled at the Planning Commission on February 11, 2010 to review the CUP. If the CUP is approved, the Masonic expects an appeal at the Board of Supervisors to follow. For more information about the project, or a full list of the proposed Conditions of Approval please visit www.masonicauditorium.com. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers