Noe Valley Voice February 2013

Town Square Progress Slow But Steady

By Heather World


Efforts to create a town square on 24th Street picked up steam in January when the project jumped a hurdle to qualify for city funding, bolstering fundraising efforts already under way.

“We are very hopeful,” said Nisha Pillai, a five-year resident of Noe Valley and member since May of the group Residents for Noe Valley Town Square.    

Neighborhood support for the project to turn the blacktop parking lot at Vicksburg Street into a public gathering spot has netted $470,000 to date, she said. The lot is the site of the popular weekly Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, which would stay if the town square became a reality.

Chances of its materializing improved significantly on Jan. 8, when the Noe Valley Town Square was officially added to a roster drawn up by the Park and Recreation Open Space Advisory Committee, a group that makes recommendations to the Recreation and Park Commission as to which parks and open space to acquire.

The Residents expect to go before the commission in March, when they will ask the body to consider buying the parking lot using open space funds.

Their hope is that Rec and Park will kick in something close to $2 million of the estimated $3.6 million price tag to buy the property, Pillai said.

“Noe Valley is one of the most underserved communities in terms of open space in the city,” she said. City planning policy defines an area as ­deficient in open space if there is no playground or park within a half-mile radius.

“If we had the town square there, that would be the only open space within almost three-quarters of a mile,” she said.

At the same time, the group is working with the park department to hash out how the acquisition would take place if the project were approved. It’s not unusual for community groups to partner with the city to maintain a park space, but partnering for the acquisition is new territory, so a new agreement is being created, she said.

Looking to other sources for money, group members Kate Sherwood and Leslie Crawford are applying for a second round of state grant money intended for urban greening projects. Winners in the first round of grants will receive up to $1 million. (Winners won’t be announced until summer 2014 at the earliest, said a spokesman for the granting agency.)

Meanwhile, organizers continue their weekly appearances at the Saturday farmer’s market. A standard fund­raising campaign starts with an initial large donation, but town square organizers are working in reverse, Pillai said.

“They decided to fundraise to see how much the community supports it, and they’ve been wildly successful,” she said.

A handful of neighbors have made significant donations in the form of matching grants. Both Patxi’s Pizza and Joel Panzer’s Real Management Company put up $24,000. Local residents the Mogal family (of Eco+Historical Homes), Rodrigo Santos, and the Russell-Shapiro family, who own Absinthe restaurant in Hayes Valley, put up $12,000 each.

Money raised beyond the purchase price will determine how many amenities the space can afford, Pillai said.

In addition to the farmer’s market booths, planners envision a space that will have trees and shrubbery, benches or other seating, and possibly a stage or other performance venue.

Changes and upkeep will be the responsibility of the neighborhood, not the Rec and Park Department.

To find out more about the project, go to