SF Examiner: Coit Contract Suffers Indigestion

February 8, 2013

By: Chris Roberts
SF Examiner Staff Writer

A restaurateur’s plan to upgrade the visitor experience at Coit Tower has stalled due to a disagreement between two city departments.

Terry Grimm, whose family operates Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro district, received approval from the Recreation and Park Commission in June to become Coit’s new concessionaire.

Grimm’s plan was to double Coit’s staff and add guides who would watch over the famous Depression-era murals.

The gift shop would sell American-made items consistent with the site’s theme, and visitors would snack on crab and shrimp sandwiches served outside from a cart, the sales of which would make the whole arrangement financially viable.

Eight months after receiving approval, Grimm is still without a lease, in large part because he can’t get Public Health Department approval for the food operation, public records show. Grimm directed all questions to the Recreation and Park Department.

A new concessionaire was sought because the current family-run Fashion House Inc. concession had fallen out of favor with neighbors and park advocates for its low-key style and generic knickknacks. It has been on a month-to-month lease since 2002.

Grimm’s food was to be sold from a cart outside the tower, which has no commercial kitchen facilities. There’s space on the south patio for a small cart with a wheelbase of 48 inches. Only tamales and hot dogs or coffee and pastries can be sold from such a small cart, according to health rules.

Instead of seafood, Grimm suggested selling espresso, gelato and other small pastries, an idea nixed by Rec and Park staff in the fall. “We need you to sell food at the tower like we have told the public and our commission,” property manager Cassandra Costello wrote to Grimm in an October e-mail obtained through a public records request.

Staffers asked Grimm to hurry with specifics in October “in order to stay on schedule.” It’s unclear how far apart the two parties are currently. Sarah Ballard, a Rec and Park spokeswoman, would only say that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Grimm might ask for approval to permanently park a food truck near the tower, from which his sandwiches could be legally served. Ballard did not respond to an inquiry about the food truck.

Grimm’s proposal was to be a moneymaker for the department, which projected $677,400 in minimum annual revenue. Last year, Rec and Park received $870,768 from the existing vendor.

Following his winning bid, Grimm also informed Rec and Park staff that “the museum store will need a complete remodel.”

Also at issue is the ability to host special events at the tower outside of its usual daytime operating hours, a contentious issue with neighborhood residents. Such a proposal would require approval by the Board of Supervisors. 

The delay is wearing on some residents.

“If you walk inside Coit Tower, it looks as bad or worse than it did a year ago,” said Jon Golinger, chairman of the neighborhood group Protect Coit Tower. “As the months go by, nothing has changed and there’s no apparent upgrade to anything. People are wondering what’s happening.”

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