San Francisco: Presidio Bets on Luxury Rentals for Park Upkeep

The 1,500-acre former military base known as the Presidio was reborn as a public park in 1994. Its rolling hills, ocean views and 800-odd buildings were put under the watch of the Presidio Trust and funded, at least until 2012, by the federal government.

Now that those monies are soon to dry up, the trust has come up with an innovative idea: Let luxury rentals pay the Presidio's way. Those 800 buildings, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, require a lot of upkeep, as do the lovely grounds. (The views, however, continue to be free).

Enter the abandoned Public Health Service Hospital, a 78-year-old building and the largest of the historic buildings on the property. Instead of hospital rooms, the new residences will have high-end amenities including a doorman, granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, a wine storage room, a residents lounge and a gym: Let the Presidio Landmark apartments rise!

The Presidio is not the only park to seek funding through luxury housing. In Brooklyn, a condominium building is set at the southern tip of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Called One Brooklyn Bridge Park, it's expected to generate maintenance funds for the public space.

Although the Brooklyn site isn't a national park like the Presidio, the financial arrangement has generated plenty of controversy. Critics contend that putting private housing in a public park will make visitors feel as if they're trespassing in condo-owners' front yards. They don't appreciate that the developer gets to lease the building for a dollar a year, either. But plenty of New Yorkers are happy to have park maintenance costs picked up by an entity other than their cash-strapped city.

Of course, as a former military base, housing in the Presidio isn't new. And the proposed redevelopment hasn't sparked a lot of controversy -- except among affordable-housing advocates hoping that the residences would be priced far under market.

Already, renters can pay $1,700 a month for what The New York Times calls a "modest apartment" or $9,580 a month for a six-bedroom former officer's home that looks out onto San Francisco Bay. Two-bedroom apartments, with storage and hardwood floors, covered parking and washer-dryers, go for $1825 in the Baker Beach section.

We can expect that the 154 Presidio Landmark apartments and seven townhouses will rent for considerably more when they hit the market this summer. And they'll have a selling point that might even be better than a park: a parking spot.
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