SFFD looks to sell ‘invisible’ real estate 

The sky’s the limit above a Financial District fire station, or at least the Fire Department hopes so as it looks to close an impending budget deficit.

The Fire Department is looking to make an estimated $5 million off the air rights above Station 13, a squat building located in the block next to the Transamerica Building, according to Assistant Chief Gary Massetani, who laid out budget priorities at a recent Fire Commission meeting.

Although department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge said The City has yet to start negotiating with anyone, selling the valuable air space appears to have the support of the Fire Commission, which has been working with department’s budget team to bridge a $13.2 million deficit from the department’s $280 million budget for the next fiscal year.

Air rights refer to the empty, undeveloped space above a property. Certain low-scale buildings in high-rise territory such as downtown San Francisco can sell the unused airspace to developers for a variety of ­reasons.

If the building is historic, the Planning Department has a say in whether that valuable sky can be sold and transferred to another developer to build elsewhere downtown, according to Mark Luellen, preservation director for the Planning Department.

But Station 13, an exposed-concrete building from the late 20th century, is not a registered historic building, Luellen said. That means The City could privately negotiate the sale of the air rights so that a developer could build something on top of the existing building, or do exactly the opposite: stop development of adjacent property to keep views intact.

Air rights are an “invisible piece of real estate” that the private sector has been buying and selling for years, according to Ken Cleaveland of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco.

“I say go for it,” Cleaveland said. “The fire stations won’t get any larger and It’s a great way to add value.”

The Fire Department will submit the idea to the Mayor’s Office this month as part of a budget package that relies on real estate sales and the movement of some personnel, but does not include firehouse closures or layoffs.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com 

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