Presidio Trust enters new era of financial independence 

click to enlarge There are about 200 businesses renting space in the Presidio. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • There are about 200 businesses renting space in the Presidio.

The agency overseeing the Presidio became fiscally self-sufficient for the first time this year, which means the group no longer needs taxpayer dollars to run the former Army base.

The Presidio Trust marked the milestone 15 years after Congress requested that the federal agency in charge of what's now a national park make the switch from public subsidies to private money.

"It was an important milestone to reach because it's clearly the law, but also if we didn't the Presidio might not have been saved," said Craig Middleton, executive director of the Presidio Trust.

To commemorate the accomplishment, the Presidio Trust is planning a celebration in October to mark its first fiscal year without public money.

The 15-year time frame gave the Presidio Trust little leeway to find ways to make money. The park is unique when compared to other national parks in that it has hundreds of historic buildings that it could rehabilitate and rent out to private businesses and residents to generate revenue, according to Middleton.

There are roughly 200 businesses and 1,200 residences in the Presidio, Middleton said.

Rents are the largest revenue source, and the money made stays in the Presidio — paying for trail maintenance, national park access and free public events.

Middleton said when he first started with the trust 15 years ago, the goal seemed daunting and he knew that it would take a lot of work.

"It was an uphill climb," Middleton said. "But we are unique and unlike other parks because we can generate revenue."

Middleton said over the past six years tenants have wanted to find space in the Presidio, which wasn't the case more than a decade ago.

"Something's changed," he said. "It was pretty empty. Getting people to come here wasn't easy."

When the trust was first created by Congress in 1996, it was given $25 million to operate with the understanding that that amount would lessen each year. According to Middleton, it cost the military roughly $70 million a year to operate the Presidio. Now the trust operates on roughly $60 million a year.

The Presidio was first established in 1776 by Spanish settlers. In 1846, it became a U.S. Army outpost, following the Spanish American War.

The military remained on the land until 1994, when it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a national park, according to the Presidio Trust's year-end report to Congress.

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