SF Examiner: Concession deal falls flat at Coit Tower

March 4, 2008  – John Upton

An effort to boost the revenue The City receives from visitors to San Francisco’s 74-year-old Coit Tower has stalled, with city officials announcing that they have walked away from exclusive negotiations with one group chosen 15 months ago to operate concessions at the popular tourist attraction.

The Recreation and Park Commission in November 2006 directed staff to negotiate with a four-person group calling itself Coit Tower Partners, which was selected through a competitive process that began in 2005, department records show.

Under the agreement, Coit Tower Partners would operate the tower’s ground-level gift shop and its food and beverage concessions, manage the audio tour distribution and sell tickets for the elevator that takes visitors to the top-floor observation tower. The group also proposed to reconfigure and refurbish the interior of the gift shop and improve a public viewing deck, documents show.

On the advice of staff, department head Yomi Agunbiade decided last week to abandon negotiations with Coit Tower Partners and seek new bids, according to department spokeswoman Rose Dennis. Dennis said a timeline for the new bid process has not been developed.

Dennis said the decision was based on feedback from neighbors worried about potential traffic congestion and problems that could arise from proposed alcohol sales.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district covers Telegraph Hill, said he “absolutely” supported the decision to end negotiations with Coit Tower Partners.

“People want it to be better, but better doesn’t mean that we have to turn it into Disneyland,” Peskin said.

Coit Tower Partners leader Alexander Leff declined to discuss the matter Monday, saying The City hadn’t told him that it planned to end negotiations.

A city-appointed souvenir vendor will continue to sell gifts and elevators ticket inside the city-owned tower on a month-to-month basis until a new vendor is appointed, according to Dennis.

The cash-strapped department’s cut of the concessionaire’s sales last fiscal year worked out to roughly $515,000, according to figures provided by Dennis.

The 180-foot cylindrical tower was built on Telegraph Hill in 1932 and 1933 as a memorial for volunteer firemen who lost their lives fighting major San Francisco fires, according to U.S. Department of Interior documents.

The tower’s interior was decorated during the Great Depression with murals by 26 artists under the direction of muralist Diego Rivera, according to the documents.

The San Francisco landmark was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January, according to California Office of Historic Preservation spokeswoman Patricia Ambacher.

jupton@examiner.com

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