Eclectic Music City wins over Planning CommissionBeyond Chron
July 15, 2005
On Thursday, following a year of public controversy, the Planning Commission approved the development of Music City: an innovative "music incubator" planned for Polk Gulch. The planned facility at 1355 Bush Street includes a music school, rehearsal space, recording studios, and a full-service restaurant and bar with live music - along with group housing and a San Francisco Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, featuring memorabilia from Bay Area acts such as Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Metallica. Supporters expressed confidence that the site will not only serve musicians, but will benefit the Polk neighborhood by bringing in business and deterring crime.
"It’s more than just for musicians," gushed vocal instructor Bob Rose. "It’s for performers, it’s for instructors, anyone in the music industry or in the community."
Steve Boland, secretary of Lower Polk Neighbors, adds, "We hope it’ll generate some business for our mom-and-pop merchants, and some street life. We can always use more folks on the sidewalks and a more vibrant neighborhood."
The project is the brainchild of Rudy Colombini, an eccentric San Francisco singer, hotel owner and Mick Jagger impersonator. Growing up in North Beach, says Colombini, "music was art, it was politics, it was love. Most importantly it was San Francisco. But," he laments, "we no longer provide a place for musicians to live and perform their art."
Rehearsal studios and affordable housing are growing scarce, explains consultant Jaime Rossi. "Musicians are kind of scraping by, and it’s harder and harder in a city with increased cost-of-living and decreased rehearsal space to hone the craft. Rudy’s trying to create a center where you can do it all - live affordably, record, rehearse and perform."
When Colombini first introduced the plan in June 2004, community members were wary. "There were definitely some neighborhood concerns about noise," says Boland, noting the presence of the On Lok senior housing facility down the street. "He originally wanted to go for an after-hours permit and there was some concern about that, too." Others worried about neighborhood safety and the possible presence of large crowds on Bush Street; many complained of a lack of communication about the project. Says Boland, "Rudy was new to this, and he didn’t really understand how community outreach works in San Francisco."
On the basis of these concerns, the Planning Commission voted down the proposal. Vice-President Dwight Alexander remarks, "I was pretty down on the project, and on Mr. Colombini . I didn’t expect to see [him] again."
"I made more than a few mistakes along the way," admits Colombini.
However, following the plan’s initial rejection, Colombini hired sound consultant Charles Salter to address neighbors’ primary concern: noise. "There’s certainly going to be really strong soundproofing," remarks Boland approvingly. The new Music City plan features sound-rated windows and a double-door vestibule to block noise to the street. Colombini also hired Barbary Coast Consulting to improve the project’s community outreach. "I’ve spoken with about 350 individuals," Colombini reported to the Planning Commission, "and we sent a letter to 1,000 residents." Based on community input, Colombini reduced the restaurant/bar capacity to 100, lowered the number of studios and provided for private security.
Many residents are pleased with Colombini’s efforts. Carla Rossi is the manager of 1140 Sutter Street, a property abutting the proposed Music City site. "They have worked with us, and the problems with noise have been abated," Rossi reported to the Planning Commission. "He’s given all of my tenants his business card, and said that if anything comes up they are to call him directly."
Colombini has even won support among former opponents. "I’ve done a 360," says David Brown, a thirty-year resident of Polk Gulch and an immediate neighbor of the Music City complex. "I was one of the guys that instituted a recall on his project back in September . Man, I was dead-set against it . But he’s worked really hard on this, and he’s kept in communication with me the whole time this has been going on."
"As far as I’m concerned," concludes Brown, "Mr. Colombini can have his music hall."
Not all residents are convinced. Polk resident Sue Hestor contends that "this plan is virtually the same" as the one rejected by the commission in 2004, remarking, "a better P.R. campaign is not the same thing as a better project." She is especially concerned by the Hall of Fame component of the plan, and contends that she had not been informed of what it consisted. David Fong, a property owner at 1361 Bush Street, questions the extent of Salter’s soundproofing, and Wanda Chin of the On Lok senior facility cautions that, regardless of the architectural soundproofing, "he can’t control the people element - if it’s successful, and I hope it is, there will be people outside."
Still, members of the Planning Commission expressed confidence in the revised Music City plan, and in Colombini’s commitment to the project. "Your passion for this has really come through," remarked Commission President Sue lee.
Boland agrees. "That’s what you want in the community - people who are really committed. We have a lot of absentee property owners here, people who don’t have a stake in the community. Rudy will be a stakeholder in Polk Gulch. Now that he’s established this relationship, we hope that he’ll maintain it."
If not, says Lee, "I’m sure we’ll hear from the neighbors if they’re not happy with it. They are not shy."
See this article on Beyond Chron