San Francisco Conservatory Announces Major Expansion in Civic Center

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A rendering of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's new concert hall, part of the school's new $185 million development on Van Ness Avenue.  (Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Conservatory of Music)

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), the region's premiere advanced-training institution for classical and jazz musicians, unveiled plans for a major expansion on Wednesday after years of careful negotiations with the city and neighborhood residents.

SFCM purchased two adjacent buildings on Van Ness Avenue at Hayes Street in 2013 with the help of a wealthy donor, venture capitalist William K. Bowes. (The new building will be called the Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts.)

This summer, the school plans to demolish the two buildings to make way for a new $185 million, 12-story facility designed by San Francisco architecture firm Mark Cavagnero Associates.

Longtime200 Van Ness resident Raoul Tuz
Longtime 200 Van Ness resident Raoul Tuz. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Raoul Tuz, who has lived in one of the buildings’ 27 rent-stabilized apartments for years, embraces the impending upheaval because SFCM's plans won't lead to longtime residents' displacement from their neighborhood.

"We're going to move into a new building, a nicer place to live," Tuz says.

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In addition to concert halls, classrooms, a recording studio, conference facilities, a garden, a restaurant and housing for around 400 students, two floors of the new building will be reserved for tenants like Tuz — under the terms of their old lease.

"The rent control really helps," Tuz says.

An exterior view of what the new complex will look like
An exterior view of what the new complex will look like (Photo: Courtesy San Francisco Conservatory of Music)

SFCM is paying to relocate the residents to a building across the street during the renovations, as well as paying for them to move into the new digs when they're ready.

SFCM president David Stull says it was hard to earn the trust of the residents at first. "The primary objection was, will the conservatory honor what it's saying?" Stull says.

But Tuz says SFCM showed its commitment by organizing community meetings and overseeing the upkeep of his current building at 200 Van Ness, which is in a dilapidated state. Now, he says, he’s looking forward to living around young musicians.

Freshman jazz student Jayden Clark
Freshman jazz student Jayden Clark (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

One of Tuz's future neighbors could be Jayden Clark. The 19-year-old Australian is a freshman jazz student at SFCM on a full scholarship. Clark currently has a spot in a building the school leased temporarily at Mission and 9th Street.

He says studying in San Francisco would be out of the question without help with housing. "It just would be unfathomable," Clark says. "Being an international student, it's hard enough to get over here without any financial aid."

Clark will be a senior when the new building opens in 2020. He’ll be paying around $1,500 a month to share a two bedroom apartment there.

With the average rent on a two bedroom apartment in San Francisco standing at around $4,500, SFCM's development may make the school a more appealing prospect for many students who would otherwise consider studying in the city too expensive.

"If this is the school for you and you want this education, housing is not going to be the reason you can't attend," Stull says.

Clark adds: "I think it will just encourage a broader range of students."

The exterior of 200 Van Ness Ave. -- one of two buildings SCFM purchased in 2013.
The exterior of 200 Van Ness Ave. — one of two buildings SCFM purchased in 2013. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

SFCM's plan may inspire other institutions to follow suit.

Melissa Smith, director of the MFA program at the American Conservatory Theater, says she's seen an increasing trend of students commuting from the East Bay rather than living in San Francisco.

ACT currently does not provide housing for its 37 graduate-level acting students. But Smith says her organization is starting to evaluate the possibility of buying a building for that purpose. "We'd love to be able to provide housing," Smith says.

So far, SFCM has raised $96 million towards its overall fundraising goal of $110 million for the project. The organization's existing building at nearby 50 Oak Street will continue to be in use.

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