[Othermindsforum]  Help! Or, the Future of 964 Natoma
ghede at well.com
Fri Apr 1 02:03:30 MST 2005
Usually when I write these messages, it's with the happy task of letting
you know about an upcoming show -- in the Field Effects series, a special
event, or a concert hosted by my housemate Zoe Keating.
Today I'm writing with a different subject: the future of 964 Natoma, the
community we've built around the space, and the events we've been
presenting for the past ten plus years.
I'm writing to ask for your help.
For advice, hard-won wisdom, brilliant ideas, good vibes, good will, good
ideas, good connections -- and well, I'm not ashamed to say it, even deep
and open pockets, should they bless you.
If you've noticed that it's been unusually quiet the past few months, it's
because as some of you know we've been in negotiations with our landlord
to stay in the space. One part of that discussion was that they asked us
to stop having public events for now, a request that we've honored. (Much
to my chagrin by the way; we've had to turn down a series of opportunities
to do some amazing shows this spring... :/)
WHERE WE ARE
Last week, we reached a major fork in the road in our discussions with our
In a nutshell, our two options are:
a) to invest an estimated $50,000 (or so) to upgrade the building, after
which the landlord should be comfortable signing a new commercial lease
with us, albeit with a 25% rent increase; or
b) to make an offer on the building of $1 million (or more) "as-is."
All things considered, we'd prefer the latter -- if we can find a way to
make it work.
The price seems fair. The opportunity to pour ourselves into really making
the space what it could be fires us up. The knowledge that we will be
hard-pressed to reforge the charms of 964 and her pillow kingdom elsewhere
warms our backsides.
And so... we've spent the last week trying to figure out what our options
We've learned something about commercial lending, zoning, use codes,
interest rates, and gotten some vague outlines of how we might arrange
things to take 964 Natoma to the next level as an institution, an
organization, and a physical building.
But we're under time pressure to formulate a plan that makes enough sense
to even buy us the time to stay in the game.
We're in one of those positions where the smart thing to do is to ask your
friends for help.
It is with this in mind, friends and family of 964, that I write you
(By the way -- I would like to make clear that our situation is not a
cliche of landlord vs. tenant; our landlord in these negotation has acted
in a way consistent with the ten years of our [and our housemates']
relationship -- which is to say, with integrity, good faith, patience, and
a respect for us and what we've done with the space.)
WHAT WE NEED
If you have them to spare, of course ~ we welcome your well wishes,
positive energy, and emotional support. :)
But pragmatically we do need some expertise and advice too -- or
connections or introductions or pointers to the same.
The following seem to be the most obvious issues (but we're open to
suggestions here too), assuming we're pursuing the "offer to buy" option:
- seismic and structural review of the building, for both official reasons
(i.e. is this building worth buying, and capable of getting a loan on?)
and sanity-check ones (is it wise to be in the space and to invite others
- architectural review of the possibilities of adding a fire door to the
building, either via a rear fire door/escape (and the attendant questions
about acquiring an easement through the parking lot behind the building);
or via a firewall-protected hallway on either level exiting the front;
- architectural perspectives on minimum-cost and best-case rebuilding of
the interior to accomodate change-of-use (e.g. to live/work, possibly two
units) and/or to subdivide the space into seperate live/work, studio, and
open [informal performance] space;
- contractor/structural engineer/electrical etc. review of existing
build-out, for a second opinion on what it would take to make sure
everything in the space is up to relevant code, or improved for a variety
of possible uses;
- review of the existing zoning and use status of the building;
investigation of opportunities and pitfalls for conversion to different
status; review of issues of liability, fine, and how to avoid those
things, for various uses above and (cough) below the table;
- knock on wood(!), contractual expertise in making an offer, forming
entities or relationships (see below), etc.
FINANCIAL / INSTITUTIONAL
- advice/ideas/experience on how we might incorporate, partner, or
establish/leverage relationships with other institutions to mutual
advantage -- e.g., form an LLC which purchases the space commercially and
leases it to a 501(c) for studio/arts use; or, how to partner with
organizations like the Northern California Land Trust;
- the interrelated question of how/who/where we could finance a purchase,
and different ways that could be structured -- typically commercial loans
are on the basis of 30% or more down, which is beyond our means sad to
say -- especially if we commit to significant improvements or revision at
the same time;
- interest from potential partners in the space -- TIC partners, potential
angel-owners who might invest in the building as partners interested in
perpetuating the sort of work we've done there to date; anyone potentially
interested in investing for philanthropic or tax advantageous :)
I think that's a good start. And so much to think about...!
For anyone interested, of course, I can forward you a summary of the
nitty-gritty details -- what we've learned about the building, our history
with the space, details about who we all are (and what are various plans
are), what are identified and existing resources are, a summary of why we
are unable to continue our lease as we have been; and so forth... (I'm
ghede at well.com)
Before I leave you, I wanted to share something I wrote to our landlord
back in February explaining why we want to stay -- it's attached below.
For anyone who's been a part of the 964 community, I hope you feel that
what I wrote has been true to your experience -- and I have faith that you
understand why we hope to continue doing what we have been, and to only
get better at it.
(Fwiw, we guess, but do not presume, that even the *possibility* of buying
the space may have arisen in sympathy to what we expressed.)
I close with my thanks for your support over the years, and for your
patient attention today...
...and as ever, I hope to see you soon.
Ex tenebras lux,
fortunate enough to be
one of your hosts,
at 964 natoma
PS Please forward to anyone you think might be interested -- but please do
NOT publish publically or to open mailing lists -- as both our
negotiations and official standing in 964 are quite senstive -- thanks!
PPS Sincere apologies for the long length of this letter -- I know it's
not what you bargained for when you signed up for events mailings... and I
promise, I won't make a habit of it! :)
[excerpt from my letter to our landlord of February 10, 2005]
Before I close this letter, however, I wanted to briefly explain why
[my wife] Bronwyn and I want to stay at 964 Natoma.
I do not ask this to be your concern, but I cannot either stay silent
about what motivates us to ask you for any possible resolution:
No one ever wants to leave their home.
For us, though, 964 Natoma is more than a home; it is the place that we
have found and made community, and made the art that is the reason we
came to, and stay in, San Francisco.
It is a story repeated a thousand times, of course, that during the
dot-com years many, many artists lost their place in the city. As [my
housemate] Jeff wrote in his letter introducing us formally to [you], it
is very much to [your] credit that we were able to continue to live in and
work in 964 during that time.
It is not an exaggeration to say that there are few, if any, spaces like
the 964 we have made left in the city; on March 1, one of our closest
"sister" spaces a few blocks away is shutting down and its residents are
being dispersed. Other friends nearby, on 10th Street, are losing their
mixed-use office and events space. I can think of two or three warehouses
like ours on the outskirts (physically and culturally), but that's all.
Nothing in the center of the city.
We are a vanishing breed. But we do not want to go.
Many of the people with whom I've discussed our current situation have
told me that their experiences at 964 Natoma are among the fragile handful
of things that define, for them, their San Francisco experience.
The heart of the matter is that we have made this piece of property an
experience. One that people go out of their way to bring out-of-town
friends to, to show them why they put up with the problems and
frustrations of our city.
People constantly tell me how important this space is to them;
unsurprisingly, then, a common reaction among friends and peers on
learning of our challenge to stay here is to ask whether a petition would
help support us (it is likely that we could find 1,000 signatures or more
from people who value what we do here enough to put their voice behind
I know that that would not help; in fact, I've gently dissuaded such ideas
precisely because I know that they raise exactly the issues about our use
of the space here that are, in theory at least, the most potentially
But at the same time, I need for you to know that we are not simply
tenants clinging to a comfortable situation.
There is no reason that you would know what we do here; in fact, that
until recently you did not is, I would suggest, to our credit; suffice to
say that all of us -- [my wife] Bronwyn and I, [our housemates] Jeff and
Zoe, and until this month, [our former housemate] John -- have done more
than just make our own art here.
Beyond art we have built a shared sensibility dedicated to, and a space
that nutures, a very rare thing: the idea of refuge, of comfort, of calm,
of quiet, and of sanctuary.
We have made this space into something that offers, every six weeks or few
months, a respite through art and easy community from the harsh
neighborhood that surrounds us.
We use this space to create something unique.
This has been done at personal cost; we are not in this for the money. We
don't make money from the space. Personally, I give all donations directly
to the artists who present work here. Our events are staffed by
And it's worth it, of course, because we have been paid back tenfold in
goodwill (what once in this city was called karma), because we have had
the satisfaction of knowing that the gentleness, warmth, and invitation
that people find here is so deeply appreciated, and so deeply needed. (My
own events have won awards that speak to this: c.f. www.fieldeffects.org).
Why not take this enthusiasm elsewhere, you could rightly ask; but the
answers are sadly too easy.
This space is, however unpolished, non-slick, and rough around the edges,
unique in its charms: in its physical presence, in its acoustics, in the
fact that hosting a concert, we invite 50 people into what is clearly our
The fact that this kind of experience is actually accessible in the heart
of the city (compare Fruitvale and West Oakland, the only place I know
where warehouse culture is thriving) is significant. And, of course, we
have a "brand" now; people know what they are going to get when they come
to 964 Natoma.
But beyond those stark facts is another one, that the option to sink years
of work into another rough space like this one originally was is simply
Since even the possibility of losing this space emerged, I have been
doggedly pursuing every possible alternative, contacting every person I
could find who leases commercial space or live/work space, looking for
some similar option. They do not exist anymore, at least not at this point
in the economic cycle, anywhere where it makes sense to be: this weekend
we looked at a desperately raw space in Crockett, and despaired at the
drive. Not for ourselves, but because no matter what we built there, no
one would come.
Why tell you all this?
Because in the wee hours of the night -- and it is 4 a.m as I write this,
for I am juggling pressures from work, my art, and this situation all at
once -- it seems so clear that there might be more to some decisions than
what is most prudent, rational, and lucrative.
That there are occasions when the intangibles might, even just, make the
I cannot of course presume that this is such a situation. I do not.
We are not afraid to work hard. We are not afraid to make sacrifices. We
are willing to make and do things better.
But ultimately, all we can do is ask you, please, to consider the
wonderful thing that you have let come to be here; and to consider, is
there not a way that you can let it continue to flourish, in its quiet and
ghede at well.com
| quod omne animal post |
| cogitum est triste... |
More information about the Othermindsforum