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Historic Civic Center building to be leased to music promotion company

SF Public Press
 — Jun 30 2010 - 4:24pm

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, named after a rock promoter in 1992, will now be leased to a music promotion company.

Originally named the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, the building has been a staple of San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza since it was constructed in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. But this year, after becoming another victim of budget woes, it will no longer be managed by the city.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to lease the four-story and one-square-block building to the Delaware-based BGCA Management for a period of 20 years, starting at a base-rent of $100,000 per year.

The contract also requires BGCA to spend at least $10 million on renovations, and for 50 days each year allows the city to retain use of the building, which was named after former rock promoter Bill Graham.

“While this facility at one time — half a century ago — was the premier civic auditorium for conventions,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, one of the measure’s sponsors, “as recently as two years ago, the city was expending up to $1 million just to maintain the facility.”

BGCA is an affiliate of Another Planet Entertainment Inc., which is the promoter of Berkeley’s Greek Theater and Oakland’s Fox, among others. The company is also the producer of Outside Lands and Treasure Island Music Festival.

“Management will be investing $10 million in improvements to create a state-of-the-art concert and comedy venue,” Dufty said. “This proposal has improved, having a local promoter with deep roots in the Bay Area and a demonstrated commitment to labor and to San Francisco.” 

But labor leaders questioned BGCA’s commitment to workers at the facility. Although the lease requires the company to offer jobs to all existing employees at the auditorium, union members had doubts about their future employment.

“They are leaving us out of the boat,” said Juan Carlos Esteban, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1877, whose members have provided security, housekeeping and traffic control services at Bill Graham for 29 years.

BGCA, Esteban said, is refusing to retain seven full-time workers and event workers, or respect their current employment standards, mainly wages.

Workers with seniority were making anywhere from $18 to $23 per hour, but SEIU members are afraid that BGCA will now bring in nonunionized staff for lower wages.

“I understand the city’s position,” Esteban said. “I mean, they’re losing money.” But he added that providing concerts and jobs for some must not come at the expense of destroying jobs for others.

SEIU is more than willing to provide its services for concerts, even taking reasonable wage cuts. It is also ready to picket if BGCA refuses to negotiate and brings in other workers.