Pier 38 Drama Isn’t Over Yet

9/14/11Follow @wroush

[Updated 3:20 pm PT with comments from Jason Wong, see page 2] Entrepreneurs trying to prevent the eviction of more than 20 tech startups at San Francisco’s Pier 38 haven’t yet won a reprieve, but they’ve won a meeting with Mayor Ed Lee.

Jason Wong, CEO of San Francisco-based software consultancy i5Labs and leader of an informal group of tech executives protesting the Port of San Francisco’s recent eviction order, reports on his blog today that the Mayor’s office, Pier 38 tenants, and Port representatives will meet Friday to discuss the situation. District 10 supervisor Malia Cohen and District 6 supervisor Jane Kim will also participate.

The meeting was arranged after Wong and other entrepreneurs held a protest rally in front of City Hall yesterday, toting signs saying “Save Pier 38.” (Local news station KTVU covered the rally on TV.) Wong says the protesters were able to speak with members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who offered expressions of support. Wong says Board president David Chiu told him he would “do anything he could to support us.”

The drama at Pier 38 has been building for months, if not years, but boiled over on September 6 after the Port of San Francisco posted eviction notices on the building, citing fire code violations and unsafe conditions (see photos below). Unless a deal can be worked out, the building’s tenants—which include approximately 40 small businesses with more than 150 employees—will all have to clear out by 5:00 pm on September 30.

The inspections leading to the eviction notices took place after the Port reclaimed Pier 38 from longtime leaseholder Carl Ernst on August 1. Ernst had subleased space in the building to a variety of other companies such as SOMAcentral. (The full web of leases and sub-leases at Pier 38 is difficult to untangle, but the list of companies with space there includes Automattic, 99designs, Socialmedia, True Ventures, Dogpatch Labs, and all of the resident startups at Dogpatch.) The Port said the inspections found problems relating to the building’s electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and structural systems that make it “too dangerous for occupancy.”

Ken Thom, managing director at SOMACentral, told KTVU that he would be willing to make the necessary repairs, but he said the Port has not responded to the offer. “Any other city in this country and probably the world, if they had what I call a jewel of job creation and tech innovation like we do here at Pier 38, they would bend over backwards to say, ‘What can we do to help you?’” Thom told the station.

If no help is forthcoming, Pier 38 tenants such as Dogpatch Labs, a startup incubator created by Polaris Venture Partners, will likely be forced to scatter to various locations in the South of Market neighborhood, such as Hatchery, a new coworking space that opened this month on Second Street. But they’ll face substantially higher rents; after a long post-dot-com period of … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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