On Monday, the San Francisco Small Business Commission considered a resolution in support of Another Planet Entertainment’s proposed changes to the 100-year-old Castro Theatre.
After hearing from an overwhelming number of in-person and virtual public commenters who voiced their opposition to the resolution, the commission voted unanimously 6-0 to continue the resolution to a later date.
Earlier this year it was announced that Another Planet Entertainment would take over the theater’s programming and renovation, while ownership remains with the Nasser family and Bay Properties Inc.
According to commission president Sharky Laguana, APE was invited to give a presentation about the proposed changes. Many of the commissioners stated that this was the first time they had heard of the conflicts surrounding the changes to the Castro Theater.
Small Business Commission President Sharky Laguana. | Image: SFGovTV
Before the presentation, Laguana addressed criticism the commission received via email leading up to the meeting. “Before we begin, I’d like to lower the temperature,” Laguana said.
The committee was set to discuss a draft version of a “Resolution in Support of Another Planet Entertainment”.
“Whereas, renovations that maximize space and expand the use of the Castro Theater while preserving its historic features are vital to its long-term financial stability; now, therefore,” the resolution read in part.
“However it is decided, the Small Business Commission supports Another Planet Entertainment’s proposal to update the Castro Theater to improve accessibility, improve programming, and enable the Castro Theater to continue serving the LGBTQ+ community for 100 years of others,” the resolution concludes.
Many of the commissioners and public speakers questioned why this article was before the Small Business Commission in the first place. Public speakers asked the commission to wait until the Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission review the project before supporting a resolution.
Public speakers also criticized APE for its lack of transparency and for not announcing the commission’s hearing at its City Hall on August 11. Many public speakers said they only heard about the hearing three days ago thanks to a city employee tipping them off.
“I still don’t understand why this is before our commission right now,” said Commissioner William Ortiz-Cartagena.
“I will take responsibility for why this is on our agenda. This particular building has a particularly big impact on the small business community in the Castro, which was suffering even before the pandemic,” Laguana said. Laguana cited Castro’s store vacancy rate of 37% and the 50% drop in sales tax revenue.
Present at the presentation were APE Senior Vice President Mary Conde, APE Vice President of Business Affairs Dan Serot and Assistant General Manager Casey Lowdermilk. APE CEO and co-founder Greg Perloff and the Nasser Family were not in attendance.
The APE presentation began with a brief introduction followed by a 13-minute video about the challenges and plans for the Castro Theater renovation.
The proposed renovations include removing the orchestra-level seats and replacing them with four platform sections with movable seats; removing the lobby area concession stand; expansion of the women’s bathroom; improvement of ventilation and electricity systems; adding a locker room on the first floor; and possibly adding an elevator with access from the lobby level to the second floor.
A rendering of the proposed floor plan of the residence hall. | Image: Another Planet Entertainment
During the hearing, Serot admitted that APE was not fully prepared for the public reaction when it announced that it would take over the management of the historic theater.
“Unfortunately for us, we haven’t seen this as a community center. Rather, as a business venture,” Serot said.
In response to APE’s presentation, Laguana said, “We need you to be successful… We need it to be here hundreds of years into the future.”
However, Laguana called on APE to do more community outreach. “I would like to see a bridge to the community and a real engagement with the community on these concerns,” Laguana said.
Another Planet Entertainment assistant general manager, Casey Lowdermilk. | Image: SFGovTV
Commissioners heard from about 20 public speakers, all but two of whom were critical of the APE and asked the commission to withdraw or continue the resolution at a later date.
Originally, public comment was to be limited to one minute per speaker, but after protest by activist Michael Petrelis, Laguana agreed to two minutes per person.
Many of the public speakers condemned APE’s plans to remove the orchestra level seats. At the hearing, APE said they had not yet decided what type of temporary seating they would install.
To make it easier to remove and install the seats, APE stated that the seats would be stored on site in a new room built at the back of the theater in a former boiler room.
Queer public historian Gerard Koskovich shared his concerns about the proposed changes and the impact they would have on the LGBTQ+ community and culture.
“The classic movie theater attack at the Castro Theater is not random, it’s not random, it’s not trivial,” Koskovich said. “It’s what preservationists define as a defining characteristic of this space.”
“That’s what tells you this is a movie theater,” Koskovich added. “It is essential that the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission be addressed before this commission makes any consideration.”
Queer public historian Gerard Koskovich. | Image: SFGovTV
“When I hear APE talking about bringing in a ‘new demographic’ or a ‘certain demographic,’ I know what they mean by that,” Koskovich said. “They mean a lot of rock concerts with straight people who will get drunk at their concerts and 1,400 of them will pour into the streets of the Castro.”
Koscovich asked what effects this will have not only on nearby small businesses, but also on Castro’s culture.
Many commenters also questioned whether or not Berkeley-based APE is considered a small business or a San Francisco business.
In response, Laguana stated that the city’s administrative code defines APE as a small business with 100 or fewer employees.
Castro Merchants President Dave Karraker called to ask the commission to “not make this an all or nothing proposition.”
“I want you to understand that this is not about one business or one building,” Karraker said. “It’s about all the businesses in the Castro. This will help these businesses survive. The Castro needs the Castro Theater to be successful.”
The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to discuss the proposal on Wednesday, October 5. At that time, the panel will also hear District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s proposal to expand the historic designation for the theater, which would include the existing orchestra. seat in style.
The next day, the Planning Commission will hold a hearing on proposed zoning changes that would allow APE to bring in live entertainment.