Exemption could help Armory move beyond its pornographic past

The Planning Commission Thursday backed an exemption to restrictions on changing the use of a building intended to make it easier to convert the San Francisco Armory and other historic buildings to financially viable uses.

The legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim and heard by the commission today modifies Proposition X, a measure approved by voters in November, that requires developers in the Mission District and South of Market neighborhoods to obtain conditional use authorization for the removal of space being used for production, distribution and repair, institutional or community uses or for the arts, referred to in city planning jargon as “PDR” space.

The measure also requires developers to replace such space if it is removed.

The exemption granted Thursday, which would only apply to a small number of designated historic buildings or those listed in the National Register of Historic Places, would allow an exemption from the conditional use and replacement requirements if the project proposes to convert no more than 50 percent of the PDR space.

The seemingly esoteric change could help preserve a major historic landmark, the armory building, which in recent years has served as the home to Kink.com, a pornography production company.

However, Kink.com is now in the process of relocating and changing its business model, “primarily for financial reasons,” CEO Peter Acworth said Thursday.

Acworth is now working to repurpose the massive building. He won permission in April to open an event space in the 40,000-square foot drill court and is hoping to convert other parts of the building to artist’s studios and office space.

Acworth noted that operating a porn studio out of the building made it difficult to book all-ages and corporate events in the new event space:

“The building needs to be rebranded.”

The exemption approved by the commission today does not apply only to the Armory, and any projects at the armory will still need to seek planning approvals separately. But it does allow more flexibility in how the historic building, which sat vacant for decades before Kink.com’s purchase, can be reused, officials said Thursday.

Planning Commission member Dennis Richards said:

“This building needs to survive, this building needs to be successful.”