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Boxcar Theatre faced the downside of a booming real estate market this year when its landlord announced plans to sell the Tenderloin building that houses its office and studio — the same one that the City's Office of Economic and Workforce Development helped it procure in 2010, with a $20,000 subsidy for renovations. If the building sells, and its new owners aren't interested in harboring a theater, then Olivero might have to find cheaper digs in SOMA or the Mission — areas that, he says, are quickly becoming unaffordable.
The theater's much older peer, Intersection for the Arts, was similarly imperiled after getting priced out of the newly gentrified Mission District. Two years ago, Intersection moved to a mixed-use office space in the Chronicle building called Impact Hub, which describes itself as "part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center": The space holds 125 work stations, a slew of dome-shaped conference rooms, and kitchens with kombucha on tap; Intersection's roommates include Presidio Graduate School, the managing consultant firm Schaffer & Combs, and most recently, Yahoo. To an outsider they all seem like strange bedfellows, even if the tech companies moved in, ostensibly, to live cheek-by-jowl with a younger creative class. Intersection's interim executive director Arthur Combs touts the arrangement for being both inventive and sustainable, but program director Sean San Jose is more guarded.
"It's two neighborhoods to learn — the outside one, and the one in this building," San Jose says, noting that some of the building's features don't befit a performing arts space. In a curious irony of old-world protective infrastructure meeting the new sharing economy, Hearst Corporation, which owns the property, has everything shielded behind double-layer glass doors with security pass-codes. Such architectural features strike San Jose as vestiges of "an old fascist regime." He's reserving judgment on the shared-office-space model, which has kept Intersection alive, but might also constrain its programming — from an observer's standpoint, at least. (You can only do so much with a modular stage and a communal floor plan.) "This idea of being a center for innovation — we're still actually learning how that works," San Jose says. "You can't put two languages together and expect that we'll automatically say the same things."
A native of San Francisco's Mission District, San Jose is still somewhat bewildered by the changes happening around him. "Our minds are a little wrapped around trying to get the Google people to watch our things," he says, crossing one tattooed arm over the other. "Like, you get the tax break, you get the real estate. Are you gonna invest back in the community?"
That might not matter for institutions like the Strand, which already has a bevy of angel donors and a $32.5 million capital campaign behind it. At last week's ribbon-cutting, Mayor Lee stood woodenly beside State Sen. Mark Leno and Supervisor Jane Kim, promising a crowd of reporters and MFA students that, contrary to conventional wisdom, art begat a tech sector — not the other way around. "Without the arts, I don't think the technology sector would want to be here," Lee said.
To many artists, that might be a point of contention. Yet Perloff seems to have accepted the credo that you can build it, and perhaps they won't come, and maybe that's okay. The Strand, is just one element of a district that itself resembles the stage set for a theater, with the constant scene changes, and the political actors flitting in and out, and the long-time residents looking more and more like a Greek chorus. San Francisco is, after all, a city besotted with theater districts. Or at least with the idea of them.