Can We Make Civic Center Clusterfest Year-Round?

by on June 6, 2017

Last weekend’s Colossal Clusterfest in San Francisco’s Civic Center was a colossal success. Another Planet Entertainment took on the challenge of a three-day comedy extravaganza and struck comic gold.

So that led me to wonder: why can’t we turn the Civic Center Park area into a destination that people visit when Jerry Seinfeld, World Cup Soccer, or Warrior games (Game 3 is televised at 6pm in Civic Center on Wednesday) are not in the house?

I’m not alone in asking this question. Civic leaders and top city officials like City Administrator Naomi Kelly and Parks Director Phil Ginsburg are stepping up to the challenge. All are committed to making Civic Center Park a place where people come without charging admission for special events. The comedy Clusterfest showed how the Bill Graham Auditorium and poorly underutilized Fulton Street mall make the Civic Center Park area a very special place—if its potential is realized.

Think that’s a pipe dream? In the 1980’s Dolores Park was almost as little visited as Civic Center Park today. Upgrading Dolores Park changed the dynamic and the same is true for the Civic Center area (now being called Civic Center Commons).

Activating the Space

Dolores Park started with one great advantage: panoramic views of San Francisco and the Bay. Dolores Park will always be favored when choosing a picnic site,

But other factors that led to Dolores Park’s resurgence can be replicated at Civic Center Commons. One —a state of the art playground—is already happening. The future Helen Diller Playgrounds (the Diller Foundation also funded the Dolores Park playground) will open in Civic Center Park by early next year. The head of the Trust for Public Land, which is partnering with the Diller Foundation on the project, predicted it would be the top children’s playground in the entire United States.

The children of the nearby Tenderloin deserve no less.

Dolores Park also benefits from its proximity to Bi-Rite Creamery, the Mission’s favorite ice cream stand. People coming to the park have an excuse to visit Bi-Rite, which on hot days is as much a destination as the park. There is no reason the Civic Center Commons could not have a food destination that also draws people on non-event days.

The aesthetics of Civic Center Commons currently fall far short of the area around Dolores Park. Some of this—the palm trees along Dolores compared to the treeless streets around Civic Center—cannot be matched. But an effort to bring color into the too drab Civic Center is underway—and should soon help make the area more attractive.

So let’s assume that Civic Center Commons has playgrounds to attract families with young kids and is more physically attractive. How do we get the under-40 crowd that attended the comic Clusterfest, visits Dolores Park,  but is not at Civic Center on weekends other than for events?

Attracting this demographic initially requires scheduled activities. Whether it include big screen Warrior playoff games, movie nights, or free public speakers and/or entertainers subsidized by a combination of philanthropy and vendor sales, it’s time to make San Francisco’s central public space a desired destination.

Mid-Market, Tenderloin and Civic Center

What also distinguishes Dolores Park from Civic Center Commons is the greater weekend liveliness in the surrounding area.

Civic Center is dead on weekends. The city, state and federal employees occupying the area’s buildings are gone, and even the portion of Market Street bordering Civic Center is a quiet zone. The Asian Art Museum and library are open, but the only street level excitement comes from the bustle of the Sunday UN Plaza Farmers Market.

Increasing street activity may await the construction of the three Tenderloin/Mid-Market projects between Jones and Mason (the Shorenstein, Tidewater, and Group I projects). None breaks ground until this fall. The opening of the two long vacant hotels at 7th and Market (the Proper this summer and the Yotel later this year) will increase liveliness, but adding nearby permanent residents will do far more to increase Civic Center weekend activity.

The new buildings at Trinity Plaza and the Emerald Fund near City Hall are positive additions but their presence has yet to have a visible weekend effect in Civic Center. These residents are part of the future pool for those activating Civic Center Commons if there were activities going on there.

The Tenderloin has some exciting non-residential projects that I cannot publicize at this time. But these will improve activation north of Civic Center by next year. The Clusterfest also initiated the Tenderloin Museum’s use as a late night party venue; Sarah Silverman and other comics partied until 2am both inside the historic venue and outside on Eddy Street.

If you’ve been looking for a late-night venue, few have the history of the Tenderloin Museum.

So the revitalization of the Civic Center is a work in progress. The big breakthroughs are a year or two away.

But the Colossal Clusterfest reaffirmed Civic Center Commons’ potential. And confirmed that a prediction for its rosier future is no joke.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. Pick up his book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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