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Presidio project should be awarded on merits, not star power

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Sports Basement store at Presidio
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • The Presidio Trust plans to rehab a portion of the park site, including this store.

The Presidio Trust has a spectacular opportunity to remake two sections of the Presidio with amazing views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge that have been all but cut off from each other by a roadway.

But the process to select a project to redevelop the former commissary building, which houses the Sports Basement sporting goods store, needs to weigh the competing proposals on their respective merits and how they fit into plans for the historic site — and not on star power or name recognition.

The Presidio Trust, which took over operations of the former military base after the facility was shuttered, has winnowed the proposals for the site from 16 to three. The three finalists vying for the chance to transform the Main Post and Crissy Field include The Bridge/Sustainability Institute, which want to build what amounts to a science fair; the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy, which wants to build an all-purpose venue that could be used by dozens of groups for varying events; and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, who wants to build a Beaux-Arts-style museum to house his personal art collection, which includes illustrations by the artists Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell.

Last week, these three contestants submitted their final proposals to the Trust, which posted them on its website so the public can weigh in.

Any decision about what to build on the site should be nuanced and complicated, since there are strict guidelines about the structures and how they need to fit into the historic nature of the Presidio. Lucas, however, has used his celebrity status to decry the process and guidelines for building on the federally owned property.

The New York Times quoted Lucas as saying that the Presidio Trust has "stalled" for years and "snubbed his taste in architecture." Lucas certainly knows the rules for building at a site owned by the National Park Service, since he constructed the Letterman Digital Arts Center there in 2005.

Lucas threatened to build a museum in Chicago if he is not allowed to build the dome-topped buildings he wants on the bayshore. And the director's criticism of his project's critics also has thus far overshadowed the conversation about the actual project, which does his proposed museum and the other proposals a great disservice.

All three final proposals have pros and cons, and each has its defenders and critics. Mayor Ed Lee has come out in favor of the Lucas proposal, but several members of the Presidio Trust board have openly questioned its design.

Lucas is not, as he told The New York Times, being saddled with "obstacles" by the Presidio Trust. Rather, his project is being held to the high standards that have been applied to every project proposed for the publically owned land being held in trust by the government.

While adding another cultural institution to the Presidio alongside the Walt Disney Family Museum would not hurt, the building design and use proposed by Lucas may not be the right fit for the area. His project, as well as the other two finalists, need to be judged on their merits — not the name attached.