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April 18, 2014

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Academy of Art’s SF real estate takeover

The ever-expanding Academy of Art University is on the move again. As part of their quest to own every major parcel of real estate in The City, the university recently purchased a 130,000-square-foot building at 150 Hayes Street.

Following this real estate purchase, the university now owns a total 1.93 million square feet of space in 41 properties in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Business Times. This also includes 22 academic and office properties and 19 residential buildings.

As one may expect from an art university, they aren’t searching for boring office space real estate, instead the university has acquired several historic landmarks. Their multifarious collection of properties includes the Cannery on Fisherman’s Wharf and St. Brigid’s Church on Van Ness.

Their newest property addition at Hayes Street used to be part of the former California State Automobile Association’s campus at Market and Van Ness in San Francisco. And before purchasing this building, the school’s last big buy was at 625 Polk Street, formerly occupied by the California Culinary Academy.

While the California State University system is shutting out thousands of mid-year applicants for spring admission, it may be a welcome sign that the Academy of Art University is continuing to expand. But it’s unlikely you’ll see San Francisco’s Planning Commission and the Department of Buildings cheering about the school’s new real estate acquisitions anytime soon.

The for-profit school has been in constant trouble with The City for ignoring zoning and code regulations. The Wall Street Journal reported that city officials said many of the school’s recently acquired buildings were converted into classrooms, dormitories, and offices. In most cases these changes were made without city approval or the proper permits.

The university submitted a master plan to officials in November 2011 detailing how the school needs another 495,000 square feet of institutional space for art studios, classrooms and offices. On top of this, the school estimates they will need another 55,000 square feet of dorm space and 50,000 square feet for recreation and other common area uses.

Although this master plan detailed their future expansion plans, the Cannery building is outside the area they identified. Frustrated city officials fear the purchase reflects the school’s plans to continue to ignore The City’s planning regulations.

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