Masonic Center still not rockin’ as legal setbacks keep concert promoter out of venue 

The bells of Grace Cathedral should remain the loudest noise emanating from atop Nob Hill after a judge dealt another setback to plans for the Masonic Center to become a full-time musical venue with a permanent liquor license, more bars and 85 shows per year.

At the very least, two Superior Court rulings have significantly hampered the ambitions of the event-promotions giant Live Nation.

In late April, the Nob Hill Association neighborhood group won two lawsuits against The City and the Masons.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled that the project lacked proper environmental review and that a Planning Department zoning administrator erred in approving the expanded usage.

After Live Nation lost control of The Warfield in 2008, the nation’s largest concert promoter hoped to expand the Masonic Center’s auditorium as its flagship midsize venue in San Francisco. That would enable it to better serve the market for bands capable of attracting a few thousand fans, the sweet spot in the concert industry following the decline of the arena rockers of years past.

The Masonic Center currently holds around 3,200 people, and the proposed renovation would add about 100 spaces and several bars. The ground-level seats also would be torn out to better suit rock shows and create space for one of the greatest fears of the neighbors — a mosh pit.

“What happens when they have raucous-type events up there?” asked Bob Varni, president of the Nob Hill Association, which also is fighting the venue’s liquor license application before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in Sacramento. “We already have enough people hiding needles in Huntington Park without adding 3,300 more.”

During hearings on the matter, neighbors complained about the potential for increased traffic and a lack of parking. Nonetheless, the Board of Supervisors eventually approved the concert use during a contentious four-hour hearing last May.

The venue currently is used for corporate events, graduations and citizenship ceremonies. Charlie Sheen also appeared there last month on his “My Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour. Temporary liquor licenses are obtained on a case-by-case basis.

Steven Vettel, an attorney who represented the Masons and has worked with Live Nation in the past, said appeals to the decisions are being considered. Expansion plans could still move forward with a zoning change and further
environmental study.

“It means we have to go through more procedure,” Vettel said, estimating that the environmental review might take a year. “I can’t tell you what the future will hold … we are not walking away from the project.”

Live Nation spokeswoman Liz Morentin echoed those comments in an email response.

“We fully intend to pursue the modernizations we have planned and will embark upon the environmental review process outlined in the ruling,” Morentin said.

Jack Song, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said his office likewise is considering its options and isn’t ruling out an appeal.

But in the event of more litigation, Nob Hill Association attorney Denis Shanagher said the neighbors plan to keep fighting the expansion.

“The neighborhood would oppose the appeal and oppose any effort to rezone the Masonic Temple area,” Shanagher said. “I think the neighbors have lived with, and do not object to, the current use of the facility.”

AEG, which owns AEG Live/Goldenvoice, shares the same owners as Clarity Media, which oversees The San Francisco Examiner.

Midsize concert venues in the Bay Area

Masonic Center

  • Capacity: 3,200
  • Programmer: Live Nation

Fox Theater, Oakland

  • Capacity: 2,800
  • Programmer: Another Planet

The Warfield, San Francisco

  • Capacity: 2,300
  • Programmer: AEG Live/Goldenvoice

Regency Ballroom, San Francisco

  • Capacity: 2,300
  • Programmer: AEG Live/Goldenvoice

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Dan Schreiber

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