Palace of Fine Arts site that housed Exploratorium needs pricey fixes 

click to enlarge Any business looking to move into the old Exploratorium site will have to foot the bill for upgrades that could cost millions. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Any business looking to move into the old Exploratorium site will have to foot the bill for upgrades that could cost millions.

An exhibition hall at the Palace of Fine Arts is available for rent, but whoever wishes to lease the iconic property’s spacious site will be responsible for repairs and rehab work potentially costing tens of millions of dollars.

Any future tenant at the 98-year-old building, most recently occupied by The Exploratorium, will have to pay at least $6.5 million to replace the original pilings, the roof’s trusses, and perform other foundational work, according to Marc L’Italien, principal at San Francisco-based EHDD Architecture, which conducted a study examining the rehab needs.

The 1993 roof — which could be changed to incorporate more skylights, a feature of the original roof — also needs replacing, along with roof drains, a new sprinkler system, and a new emergency generator to supply power to the building, said L’Italien, who noted that the 80,000-square-foot space is nonetheless in “great shape for its age.” The site  originally was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Since the former tidal marsh where the Palace sits is prone to flooding, it also needs “drainage work,” he said, adding that this is on top of the $6.5 million bill for the foundation and trusses.

And that’s just the “cold shell upgrades” to the building’s bones and exterior. Any interior improvements will have to be added to any future tenant’s bill, which could vary wildly depending on who or what the tenant is.

A formal estimate of the work total has yet to be conducted, but people familiar with the site say it could run between $15 million and $25 million, depending on the tenant.

There’s currently no money in the Recreation and Park Department budget to fix the building, according to Nick Kinsey, a property manager for the department. Voters did pass a $195 million bond in November to raise cash for the department, but all that money is earmarked for specific projects.

Neighbors in the Marina want to see something the community can use, possibly an art-related organization or a child-friendly establishment, according to Ariel Ungerleider Kelley, president of the Marina Community Association. But the steep price tag “is obviously going to limit the pool of people that logistically can get in there,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the area.

In the meantime, The Town School For Boys, a private school in Pacific Heights, will lease the space for $42,000 a month until summer 2014, with a possible extension through the end of the year. The Exploratorium paid Rec and Park, which owns the facility, $39,600 a month in rent, according to the most recent lease.

The Department hopes to have new tenants bid on the property by next spring, Kinsey said.

Part of the building also houses a theater, whose lease expires next year. Representatives at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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