Presidio Trust Scraps Lone Proposal to Revive Historic Fort

The federal agency sought a "deep-pocketed do-gooder" willing to invest upwards of $200 million to remake it as a mission-driven space.

Fort Winfield Scott (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

When the Presidio Trust put out a request for proposals in October 2018 to restore its historic, largely untouched military fort, they envisioned it as a “Campus for Change” to serve the public. Just one repeatedly-criticized proposal by a group of developers moved forward and on Wednesday evening, the federal agency unanimously rejected it and went back to the drawing board.

The Presidio Trust sought to restore Fort Winfield Scott, a collection of 22 buildings — almost half being Mission Revival-style — that circle a large outdoor space with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and have sat empty since 1994.

In San Francisco, those 30 acres in the northwest corner of the city are valuable space and the board is unapologetic about making it mission-driven to focus on environmental or social issues. The site was first Ohlone land before Spain, Mexico, and, finally, the United States took it over as a military post that was home to an anti-war movement.

With an estimated cost of at least $200 million, they wanted to find a “deep-pocketed do-gooder” to take on the challenge with no expectation to profit but to establish a place for groups “trying to change the world.” By March, a group of developers came up with a plan that would have its partners WeWork and an artificial intelligence company, OpenAI control 86 percent of the space with risky loans and insufficient commitment to the public good.

“Despite the addition of the new nonprofit entity, the underlying structure remains unchanged from the initial proposal: the revised proposal is built on delivering a financial return to its investors,” a Presidio Trust staff report concluded, recommending not to accept the plan. “Worst yet…the revised proposal would require the trust to contribute to the costs of the development, something that we explicitly said from the very beginning that we would not do.”

The Presidio Trust Board of Directors concurred and voted unanimously to not move forward with the plans. 

 “We had a robust, transparent and well-run process to determine whether we could partner with mission-driven organizations to develop Fort Winfield Scott,” said William Grayson, who chairs the Board of Directors. “We greatly appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that the consortium put into this proposal. However, it ultimately didn’t meet enough of the Presidio Trust’s requirements to move forward.”

Instead, Presidio Trust will return its focus to other projects, like the upcoming Tunnel Tops park and a theatre, and slowly earn enough to restore the buildings one at a time, according to spokesperson Lisa Petrie.

Should someone with enough money feel philanthropic, the board said they are happy to talk. Until then, ghosts of Fort Scott’s past and the native wildlife will continue to occupy most of its space.

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