Poets Plaza proposal suffers from lack of funding 

It has been more than three years since a North Beach community started designing plans for a Poets Plaza, complete with olive trees, a poet’s podium, chess tables, park benches and quotes from great poems inscribed in the pavement.

While the project has support from Mayor Gavin Newsom and neighborhood groups, financing is proving to be the one huge hurdle. Piazza Saint Francis Association — the nonprofit group spearheading the project — is already in the red, owing engineering firms more than $22,000 for studies recently conducted, said Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who founded the project.

The nonprofit must pay off that money before it can move forward with its plans. Once that debt is paid, the group will have to come up with at least another $3 million to bring the design concept to fruition, said Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers.

“We need to raise a lot of money — it’s going to take a couple of million to install it,” Ferlinghetti said. “We are not going to give up.”

He is hoping that people will donate money in exchange for having their names engraved in the podium and sidewalks.

The project would close off a block on Vallejo Street between Grant and Columbus avenues, near Caffe Trieste and the Shrine of St. Francis. That would require an enormous amount of capital for storm water and utility work, said Andres Power, urban designer with the Planning Department.

“It’s a big-ticket item and I think it will be an effort to fundraise,” Power said. “Street improvements are not a cheap thing.”

While The City is not taking the lead to advance this project, the vision does fit in with Newsom’s pavement to parks program, converting stretches of parking lots and other unused pavement areas into small outdoor lounging areas called parklets.

Parklets are cheaper and tend to attract private support to cover the cost, which is a more viable option to get this project done in this economic climate, Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

“The mayor is a strong supporter of the concept,” Winnicker said. “That’s why we are working with the community group on how to achieve the vision with a much lower cost.”

The vision started five years ago, when Ferlinghetti was walking through the streets of Italy and came across a beautiful plaza for pedestrians.

“It will be a quiet enclave for people to gather and have events and poetry readings — like a small Italian plaza,” Ferlinghetti said.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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