Long-time South End restaurateur Jeff Gates pitched a new plan for the massive renovation of the Power Station at SoWa into a luxury event venue to a skeptical group of neighbors on Tuesday night – many of whom had been burned over the years with excessive noise from events at the open-air Power Station.
The decision to renovate and enclose the Power Station came some time ago, but hadn’t been well-publicized to the community until now when Gates took the helm with Events Planner Rachel Silverman – particularly because they are looking to get approval for a liquor license that will be attached to the new Power Station venue.
Gates said former operator Brad St. Amand has left GTI, which is owner Mario Nicosia’s company, and he has now stepped in to lead the transformative effort on the Power Station – which has been a more informal, open air, one-day license situation for many years. The decision now was to either upgrade the unique building and get its own licenses, or demolish it and develop the space. The decision has been to transform the property, which has been ongoing for months.
“To fix the problem of lack of control over events was going to cost $500,000 for a license,” said Gates, who spent more than an hour answering questions from hesitant neighbors. “What’s happened in the past few months is a neighborhood license came available and we were able to get a license possibly to get out of this problem. I want to have my own license in there and my own staff…By having my own license, I can run a program there and have full control of it.”
An abutters meeting on the matter has been scheduled for Dec. 10, and there is a License Board hearing for the liquor license on Dec. 26, Gates said.
The renovations are ongoing and have been extensive, Gates said. They have enclosed the entire building, they are installing new windows and doors, put on a new roof and reinforced the steel girders. They have also added a second floor space, a large vestibule at the entrance and a third floor office space that will become GTI’s headquarters – with their Harrison Avenue headquarters now becoming a retail space. There has also been and HVAC, air conditioning and heating system installed. There will also be bathrooms inside, eliminating the need to have Port-o-Potties outside.
The occupancy has been drastically reduced, though, due to the renovations, going from 3,000 in the old building to 1,634 standing and 1,056 seated.
“We’re going to end up with a closed building, completely closed in,” Gates said.
“Occupancy has gone down considerably, but it’s a trade-off we made to have everything enclosed and have a much more organized structure. It was good back when it started…but the neighborhood changed a lot. That building didn’t and it needed to. It’s gotten the love it needed.”
And for all his enthusiasm and impeccable neighborhood reputation, some abutters and neighbors were a bit agitated that the news was just now coming to them.
“I and my neighbors are concerned,” said John Connelly during the Tuesday East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) meeting online. “We want to make sure we won’t hear every musical beat and every speech made. There are also a ton of concerned neighbors on this because there hasn’t been a lot of information shared.”
Judith Klau lives across the street, and like many neighbors that spoke, she has been traumatized by the noise that has come from the Power Station events over the past several years.
“I couldn’t think it was so loud,” she said. “That is a tremendous amount of noise.”
Mark Levine lives right in front of the Power Station on Harrison Avenue, and said he wanted to support the measure, but couldn’t do so if there was going to be a lot of noise and especially outdoor events.
“I can tell you when things are hopping at SoWa, we can’t think there is so much noise,” he said. “You want to run away…I would like to know how much will be going on outside…That is a problem – the sound – that has to be addressed to get our support.”
Gates said they have spent the money on windows and doors, and by nature the closing of the building would make it much more quiet than the open structure that was there. He said he has three events booked for May already, and has been taking events planners through the space. He indicated the clientele will be much different than before, as it will be a much more expensive venue to rent. Gates indicated he pictured corporate events there, and maybe a few weddings for those that can afford it.
“When you have open doors and windows it’s easy to lose control of the sound and blow out the neighbors,” he said. “With doors and windows you don’t have that anymore…It’s not a nightclub. You’re not going to have to worry about any events in there if the space is so loud you can hear it. That means it will be too loud inside for anyone and no events will be booked…I’ve been here a long time, but I’m with you. I enjoyed events there in the past, but some of those are events we wouldn’t do again. We’re looking to operate something that classic. We want to do something that everyone is great and proud of and not something that will have us at each other’s throats the next 10 years.”
In the end, it came down to the assurance of Gates, and he seemed to stake his long-time reputation on the venture and it’s neighborly operation.
EBNA President Ken Smith said the Board of the neighborhood association would discuss the matter at their upcoming meeting with input from neighbors and decide whether or not to support the liquor license, which goes for a hearing on Dec. 26 at City Hall.