The long road to Monday’s decision started roughly two years ago, with the Trust issuing a call for groups to propose ideas for the commissary building across from Crissy Field — a site that currently houses the Sports Basement sporting goods store, which will be moving farther east in the Presidio.
Sixteen groups submitted rough plans for buildings at the site, including what activities would be held there. From that batch, the Presidio Trust selected three finalists. Filmmaker George Lucas proposed building a museum for his private art collection. The nonprofit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy proposed its Presidio Exchange, a cultural institution and events center. And the third group, the Bridge-Sustainability Institute, proposed a sustainability-themed ecological center.
The project started as a way for the Presidio Trust to build a world-class facility on land that would tie together the Main Post area of the park to Crissy Field through a swath of land that is being opened up thanks to the new Presidio Parkway, a ground-level and tunnel roadway that is replacing the existing Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Star power and lobbying forces soon turned the competition between the ideas into a bruising land battle that is common in San Francisco. On one side were Lucas’ backers, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mayor Ed Lee and venture capitalist Ron Conway. There were major Presidio backers who fell on the side of the Presidio Exchange project.
The Presidio Trust was unhappy with all three finalists’ first proposals, including the design of the Lucas museum, and asked for revisions. The resubmitted proposals varied in tack — for instance, Lucas’ team redesigned the building but kept it the same size and the Presidio Exchange team kept the same design but shrunk it down by roughly 50 percent. All of the proposals worked to shore up details of exactly what activities, called programming in the proposal jargon, would occur at the sites.
The Trust decided none of the projects were good enough for the site — a gem in a national park with some of the world’s best views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The board that is tasked with operating the park in the trust of the people of the United States was right to avoid kowtowing to the intense lobbying pressure to make a selection from the current batch of ideas.
Each team was given the chance to work toward building their projects elsewhere in the Presidio — a sign that many of the issues have to do with the site, not the projects themselves. There should be a higher bar in deciding what is built in one of the prime building spots in the Presidio, and though none of the projects met that benchmark, they should be welcomed elsewhere in the park or in The City.
There surely will be more mudslinging about the projects from people unhappy with the outcome and refusal to receive the commissary site. But if the groups are truly interested in constructing their projects and not merely egotistical about building a legacy project, they should work with the Trust in finding a new home in the Presidio.
And the Trust should start the work now of laying down guidelines of what should be built on the commissary site — for the high bar that has been set should not be lowered at any time in the future for the people’s land.