By CHRIS BARNETT
As a gaggle of City Hall lawyers and bureaucrats scramble to sort out a massive financial debacle of their own making, the cavernous jazz club, restaurant and bar complex at 1330 Fillmore formerly known as Yoshi’s San Francisco, dark for the last six months, isn’t likely to come alive again anytime soon.
The city of San Francisco has now seized control of the venue from developer Michael Johnson, who built the Jazz Heritage Center complex housing Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, an exhibition space and a theater, plus 80 condominiums above.
Johnson had taken charge on July 1 of last year when he forced out Yoshi’s owner Kaz Kajimura.
In the months that followed, Johnson eventually renamed the club The Addition and added more eclectic musical acts to the marquee, but never came up with a new concept for the restaurant. Then 75 days after the new venture was officially launched on November 1, it was abruptly shut down and its staff all sacked. Since then, it’s been a ghost building.
So far, no one is willing to explain what is happening with the vacated space, including Johnson, who is technically still the landlord.
But now the city has the keys to the place and rent goes directly to the city, said a legislative aide to Board of Supervisors President London Breed, whose District 5 is home to the building. “The Mayor’s Office of Housing and other agency and departments involved all have their attorneys working to re-negotiate with Michael and his partners,” said Breed aide Vallie Brown. “It’s very complicated.”
Brown said Breed and mayor’s office staffers will hold a “community listening session” on July 13 — the first of several — to get feedback from people in the neighborhood on what they would like to see in the building.
“This is an opportunity to let Supervisor Breed and the mayor’s office know your concerns and ideas for Yoshi’s and the Fillmore corridor,” Brown said. The meeting will be held at the West Bay Conference Center at 1290 Fillmore from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
They won’t have to wait to hear what some think. A group calling itself the Citizens Committee to Preserve the African American Heritage Center delivered a three-page letter dated June 26 to Mayor Ed Lee’s office. The committee, which says it includes 14 community groups, wrote that it was “saddened, dismayed and disappointed” by Yoshi’s closure and pointed to “the devastating economic impact the closure has had in the lower Fillmore District.”
The letter also stated: “We are more disappointed by the manner in which the end has come for the Fillmore Heritage Center facility: the lack of transparency, the failure to engage the community in what is considered a major loss of a significant business and cultural asset on Fillmore. The arrogance and elitism that staff, who are responsible, have demonstrated toward our community is unconscionable.
“What we see is a carefree attitude that lacks due diligence, concern for the public interest and an ‘it is not in my backyard’ attitude that has resulted in a ‘negotiated’ settlement that is favorable to Yoshi’s at the expense of the City of San Francisco and the community, a negotiation that implies political favoritism.
“We are aware of the fact that 97 percent of the cost of the development of the commercial parcel of the Fillmore Heritage was financed by the city from property taxes. It is also evident that the city provided over $20 million in tenant improvement funds to the developer and the commercial tenants in the facility including Yoshi’s.”
The letter’s most damning line noted that “not a single repayment of the loan was made in the last eight years by the developer or the operators.”
Yet, it added, the city forgave a $5 million loan to Kajimura, got nothing in return and then turned the building over to Johnson, “who had no club, restaurant or management experience” and reportedly owes the city from $30 to $40 million.
“The predictable result was that the facility which was once grossing over $11 million per year ended up closing its doors within six months of the change in ownership,” the letter stated. “The facility closed without even being able to pay its PG&E bill.”
“We just want the city to be forthcoming, and have the mayor himself tell us what’s going on, what’s likely to happen and to listen to our ideas and business proposals,” said a member of the committee, Archbishop Franzo King of the Church of St. John Coltrane at Fillmore and Eddy. “Right now, city mouthpieces we’ve seen so far have been co-conspirators — folks who come up to you when you’re standing on your front yard and say, ‘Hey, how you today? Let me buy you a drink.’ And he walks you around the block and by the time you get back, your house has been burglarized.”
King expressed some optimism about the upcoming meeting Supervisor Breed’s office has announced to garner community input.
“Supervisor Breed is our light of hope that the city can hear our voice, which is demanding the center be community operated and culturally relevant,” he said.
EARLIER: “A new era begins at Yoshi’s“