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Alexandria Volleys With Locals Over Broken Tennis Court Promise In 1M SF Project

A group of committed tennis fans in San Francisco have rallied to stall a development helmed by powerful life sciences developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

While their argument, on the surface, is about how Alexandria altered plans to include tennis courts, the deeper issue at play is how much developers can alter their plans in response to changing economic circumstances.

A rendering of the approved development coming to 88 Bluxome St. in San Francisco.

The project in question is 88 Bluxome, a 1M SF mixed-use project just east of the SOMA neighborhood, which was initially approved in 2019. At the time, Alexandria made a concession to the original landowner, the Bay Club, pledging to replace the organization’s tennis courts as part of the project. It was proceeding as planned, with Pinterest planning to take 490K SF, until the coronavirus pandemic caused the tech firm to rethink its plans and withdraw from the lease last year.

Despite Pinterest paying a $90M penalty, Alexandria felt the loss of such a major tenant meant they had to rethink the project, and in April, announced it wouldn’t be building replacement tennis courts, citing the loss of a major tenant. 

In response, San Franciscans for Sports and Recreation, a community group committed to saving the tennis courts, appealed to the SF Board of Appeals challenging the change in plans. Last week, the board ruled the change was significant enough to warrant revisiting the project’s Planning Commission approval, SFist reported.

The fate of the project appears to boil down to a bureaucratic back-and-forth. Previously, the Zoning Administration ruled that the omission of the tennis courts was a "less than significant change."

The attorney for the pro-tennis group, however, argued that the inclusion of the court was key to entitlements, and that the 3-acre facility constitutes 10% of the project, amounting to what he called a “bait and switch.” Alexandria declined to comment for this story.

Board of Appeals Commissioner Ann Lazarus told the SF Business Times that allowing for the removal of the courts would "set a dangerous precedent." 

As more and more lab and life sciences projects, especially conversions, are built in cities, emerging community pushback is slowing down and impacting development plans. Boston residents have been concerned about the pace of lab development, and in New York City, a controversial rezoning to approve an expansion of the Blood Center, a project that would add additional lab space, was, in part, about fears of lab expansion by residents of the surrounding Manhattan neighborhood.

Once the Planning Commission makes a decision about Alexandria's removal of the tennis courts at 88 Bluxome, it could potentially be appealed further.