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Kofi Bonner's Grand Artistic Vision

We just got off the phone with planning legend Kofi Bonner, the man behind the Cleveland Browns Stadium and the renaissance of Emeryville, to find out how his magic redevelopment wand is going to transform The San Francisco Shipyard. (We can say that the pirate theme we were hoping for will not be used.)

The Ghana native and regional VP of Lennar Urban just got a huge piece of news this week: The developer won city approval for the design and build out of an 89k SF, $30M artists building at the shipyard, which will replace the existing dilapidated structures that have been used by local artists for the past 30 years. Negotiations with the artists date back to 2008; the process has taken longer than he'd like but he says that's no surprise considering economic conditions back then. When done in approximately two years, the project will house some 300 artists—making it the largest artist community West of the Mississippi. (They're gonna need a lot of berets shipped there regularly.) The Gold LEED building will house nearly 150 existing artists, and the next-door historic Building 101 will serve an additional 150.

A plaza to connect the two will create a spillover outdoor art environment of sorts, he says. He likens the project to Granville Island in Vancouver, pictured, a renovated and rehabbed arts and crafts community that's become a tourist destination. It will be wonderful, he says, to have that kind of energy in and around the shipyard. (We like to be close to the shipyard so we can get inspiration for our artwork: ships in bottles.) Closer to home, he compares it to the Emeryville Artists' Cooperative he helped created in the '90s. Construction should start in Q2 2015 and last a year. New amenities will include a kitchenette, a balcony with Bay views, oversized elevators and entryways (ideal for Pollock-sized canvases), and sound-proofed spaces for musicians.

The approval didn't come without pushback from the artist community, which is creative in nature and thought, he says. A building can take many directions and working through that process has been somewhat arduous and, in some cases, painful. But perseverance and willingness to compromise is resulting in a utilitarian building that complements what artists do on site. Lennar Urban worked with the Artist’s non-profit board, STAR (Shipyard Trust for the Arts), to make sure artists had a say in the design and affordability factor. Rents are projected to be $1.11/SF; comparable prices in S.F. go for $3.50/SF. (Above, a pic of an existing studio we visited this spring.)

The San Francisco Shipyard's on-site welcome center and downtown sales center is opening next month, coinciding with the official release and start of sales on the first 88 homes. He sincerely hopes some artists may choose to purchase a nearby home and bike or walk down from their studios. Since artists, residents, and office workers will all need coffee houses and places to eat and shop, he'll be putting in some of those retail options. In the next two and a half to three years he's working on a significant retail influx on the Candlestick side (pictured) that will be accessible via bridge. Lennar is pushing for a big grocer; possibilities include a Whole Foods or Safeway, he says.