The Harding Theater Revitalization Project began with a question: How do we as neighbors help get this historic community resource from blight to opening night? The first step to trying to shape the future of a place is to learn its history. We learned that Divisadero Hayes LLC (DH LLC) purchased the Harding Theater for $1.67 million in 2003 with the intent of demolishing it and developing mixed-use condos and retail. Community activism and historic protections blocked that full-demolition project in 2005, and then blocked a partial demolition condo project in 2008. After DH LLC's second project was appealed in 2008, the members of DH LLC put the Harding on the market for $4 million (and then lowered it to $3.6 million over the next four years). The theater sat out of reach in the midst of the economic downturn and was roughed up a bit through vandalism and water damage. A handful of interested entrepreneurs from the community made offers for up to $2.6 million, but by the time we got involved all the previous groups had given up. After months of research, strategic planning, key stakeholder engagement, and community outreach and input, assessed that the Harding would continue to languish unless the community took action.
Multiple conversations with DH LLC and other informed stakeholders left us with the impression that DH LLC was only interested in selling the Harding for $3.6 million, not leasing it or pursuing a new project. So in June 2012, Neighbors Developing Divisadero incorporated as a nonprofit (with Booker T. Washington Community Service Center serving as our interim fiscal sponsor) and took the plunge to develop a fundraising campaign to raise the $3.6 million to purchase the Harding in the public trust and move forward with an inclusive, enriching, and sustainable community development project. With input from hundreds of Divis neighbors (as well as neighborhood supporters), NDDivis developed a vision to revitalize the Harding as the Harding Hive, a multi-use community venue for learning, participating, community-building, and enjoying (you can view our detailed list of programming ideas in the survey below). In order to make the project both financially sustainable and meet accessibility requirements, the Harding Hive vision transforms the Harding from a 1,000-seat venue with two existing storefronts into a 450-seat venue that offers daytime and nighttime programming to make use of all the existing and new programming spaces. The foundation of the Harding Hive campaign is local creativity and collaboration; So far over 2,000 volunteer hours have been invested in the Harding Hive campaign by over 40 Divis neighbors and neighborhood supporters since the Harding Theater Revitalization Project began.
NDDivis set a Dec 31st, 2012 deadline for raising the $3.6 million so that we would either be ready to outright purchase the Harding or proceed with a contingency plan. A week before NDDivis launched our 6-month multi-phased fundraising campaign at the Westerfeld Mansion on July 1st, DH LLC took the Harding Theater off of the market. The members of DH LLC intend to pursue another project to demolish the back of the Harding to build 8 market-rate condos, although they have not yet submitted any plans at this time. At the point that Divisadero Hayes LLC resubmits their plans (which could be months), it will take an additional 7 months to a year for them to get approved through the Planning Department. It should be noted that the Harding is protected under state law (CEQA) and that any attempt to irreversibly alter the Harding (such as the proposed demolition of the stage) can be appealed by submitting paperwork and a fee for a few hundred dollars. NDDivis has identified a few different options for moving forward with the Harding Hive Campaign and would like to gauge the level of support for our ideas via this survey.