On Central Downtown.

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Comment by Hunter on February 3, 2014 at 9:16am

This morning Joe Monahan reports that the El Rey is for sale and here we have another great Dee Cohen photo showing that, for starters, it would need what probably amounts to $1000s just to restore the sign.  What incentives are there for a future owner to preserve the historical façade rather than just remove it and, like so many others have done along that stretch of Central, obliterate any trace of the original building?  Probably 15 years ago now I wrote to Pat Bryan, then head of the DAT, suggesting that the zoning of Downtown Central be changed to encourage and incentivize the preservation of the historical look including allowing original neon signs that didn't relate to the current tenant.  (Considered "off-site" signs in the zoning code.)  I guess now others are coming around to that point of view but I have to wonder if it is not too late.  Downtown continues to slide downhill.  The departure of Gap for the North I-25 is significant and should not be ignored.  It has already triggered the closure of one, long term, Downtown restaurant.  Will others follow?  The loss of 200 lunchtime patrons is not insignificant.  Does anyone really believe opening the 4th Street promenade to automobile traffic will change this dynamic?

Comment by Phil_0 on February 3, 2014 at 11:48am

I don't know about the sign, Hunter. It was fully restored less than 5 years ago and was fully functional as recently as a year ago. I expect there are just some loose connections somewhere that need repairing, much as you see on any of the major neon in Nob Hill after a big wind.

The family that currently owns the El Rey has struggled for a long time to make it work for them economically, and frankly haven't really had the skill set to make a go of it. I don't know what caused the failure of their most recent tenant, but as most of us who spend any time downtown are aware, the daytime and nighttime economies are different animals that are only slightly related. I can't see how the El Rey finally giving up the ghost has much to do with the Gap offices moving; connecting the two seems like a pretty big stretch. 

As to what comes next in this case, the property is a movie theater with two semi- to completely defunct nightclub spaces attached. What potential reuse of the building would you envision that wouldn't capitalize on its past as an entertainment space and its well-known marquee?

Comment by Hunter on February 3, 2014 at 12:31pm

Phil, thanks for your comments.  I'm not suggesting there is a direct causal relationship between the Gap situation and El Rey.  I would be interested in hearing exactly why Gap chose to move.  But all these events combined, businesses vacating their Downtown offices and non-office businesses closing, all contribute to the decline.

To your question, the ultimate use is at the discretion of the purchaser.  Don't know what the asking price is.  If I had to just throw something on the table for consideration, in view of recent events,  Flamenco Institute.

I never understood the priority of $400,000 lofts over workforce/affordable housing, but it suited the purpose of the person then in charge, who now has moved on when he didn't get an arena and streetcar.  Finally we're getting some investment in housing that makes sense.  The ultimate key will be getting a resident workforce population who can provide a critical mass to support businesses open past six.

Comment by Dee Cohen on February 3, 2014 at 4:12pm

The Flamenco Institute is a great idea. Maybe they can work out a deal and keep the lovely sign.

Also possibly splitting it up into different vintage shops etc, maybe some performance spaces. Rental of areas for art shows etc. Everyone knows where the El Rey is located.  Wishful thinking, D

Comment by Phil_0 on February 3, 2014 at 5:11pm

I checked out Monahan's reference...it sounds like the original owners are trying to get someone new to lease it from them, which could be a good or a bad thing, I guess.

Their involvement and continued ownership makes any major functional change at the El Rey unlikely. I imagine the most likely outcome will be another nightclub or music venue occupying the space, hopefully one with enough of a business plan to stay open for a while.


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