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San Francisco throws financial lifeline to some of its oldest gay venues

San Francisco throws financial lifeline to some of its oldest gay venues

The Lone Star Saloon has been running in San Francisco for 26 years

It’s well known that the number of gay bars and clubs in many cities across the world has been falling.

In the US and Europe, many ‘gayborhoods’ have been hit by a double whammy: hook-up apps changing the way we meet and gentrification driving up real estate prices and rents.

Now, long-running LGBT businesses in San Francisco may benefit from a proposition adopted by voters on Tuesday.

Proposition J concerns the adoption of a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund. The fund will provide assistance to landlords if they allow ‘legacy’ businesses to continue to rent premises; and grants to those same businesses.

To qualify for a place on the legacy list businesses must have been operating for a minimum of 20 years and, according to the wording on the ballot, ‘be at risk of displacement’.

A nominated business will be judged on whether it contributes to an area’s history or identity and it must also agree to preserve its ‘identity, name and craft.’

Non-profits as well as commercial businesses may benefit from the fund. Long-running LGBT businesses in the city may be among the first to take advantage of the new financial assistance.

Applicants to the legacy list will be approved by the Small Business Commission.

The financial assistance will be in the region of $500 (€460) per full-time employee per year, with an upper cap of $50,000 (€46,000) a year. Landlords will be given $4.50 (€4.14) per square foot if they provide 10-year leases to the qualifying businesses.

The city estimates the measure will cost around $3.7m (€3.4m) in the 2015-2016 financial year – rising to between $51m-$94m (€47m-€86m) in 25 years (as more businesses become eligible).

The ballot was passed Tuesday with 56.71% of the vote.

One of the leading campaigners for Proposition J was its proposer, David Campos, the openly gay supervisor of District 9. He and other supporters argued that the fund will protect small businesses against rising rents and offer them some assistance in competing against chain restaurants and coffee stores with greater financial resources.

Campos tweeted yesterday, ‘So proud to see Prop J, our legacy business proposal, passing. Thank you SF voters for helping save our legacy businesses!’

Opponents of the proposition include the San Francisco Taxpayers Association. Others have criticized the fact that businesses will be nominated for ‘legacy’ status by city supervisors and the mayor, whom they fear will prioritize supporters.

Supervisor Scott Wiener
Supervisor Scott Wiener

Scott Wiener is the Supervisor for the district of San Francisco that includes the Castro. In a statement, he told Gay Star Business: ‘Prop J will help us support and preserve some of San Francisco’s most iconic and culturally significant establishments.

‘In the LGBT community, we have a number of long-time businesses with significant cultural meaning. Anything we can do to help these businesses survive is a good thing.’

One of those businesses is the world-famous Lone Star Saloon, which has been operating for the past 26 years. Co-owner Tony Huerta took control six years ago when he took on a ten-year lease. He said that he very much welcomed Proposition J but it was too early to say whether it would help him as business owner.

‘Our lease expires in four short years,’ he told Gay Star Business. ‘We have tried unsuccessfully to secure a new one. We also offered to purchase the building but were denied.

‘Our landlord has told us that he wants to keep his options open when our lease expires. When I learned that David Campos was proposing a ballot initiative to help businesses like mine, I dedicated myself to the cause. I spent a lot of time campaigning for Prop J. I couldn’t be happier that it passed.

‘I very much intend on participating in the Legacy Business Program. Honestly, I’m not sure if it will be enough to sway our landlord to give us a new lease, but the Lone Star is such an important part of our collective history. As its guardian, I knew that I had to do everything I could to secure it’s future.

‘I want to stress that we have always had a very good relationship with our landlord. But with so much money on the table, I just don’t know what the future holds.’