Museum board approves scaled-back building &mdash will city

The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s board has given the thumbs-up to a scaled-back building design. The question is, will the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency?

If the agency approves Daniel Libeskind’s revamped, less expensive and smaller design in a mid-January or early February meeting, then the museum can move on to decisions such as selecting the lighting fixtures or matching the carpets and the draperies — and funding it all.

Libeskind’s scaled-back design would create a museum of 60,000 to 64,000 square feet, a significant departure from his roughly 100,000-square-foot original. The new building would also carry a slimmer price tag: about $40 million, reduced from at least $60 million.

“The building’s design continues to embody the goals and spirit of the original building,” said Cara Storm, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. “We’re very pleased with the revised design.”

Following the museum board’s approval of the plan last month, both the Landmarks Advisory Presentation Board and the issues committee of San Francisco Heritage gave a nod to the design. Storm saw the two meetings as stepping stones leading to the meeting with the redevelopment agency.

The agency gave the go-ahead to Libeskind’s original plan several years ago, and, according to the senior project manager for the Yerba Buena Center, Amy Neches, it likely will again.

“This is a revised plan of an already approved plan, so I think we expect it would be reasonably similar. We would see if it appears to meet the needs of the museum and continues to be a strong, dramatic design and is compatible to its surroundings,” said Neches.

A design created by Libeskind — perhaps the world’s most famous living architect after his selection to design the replacement for the World Trade Center — doesn’t hurt, she added.

“The earlier design was very well received by the redevelopment commission, and I am very hopeful this design will be well received as well. I expect it will be.”

Storm noted that the museum’s “working goal” for the building, endowment and operations is to fund-raise $75 million, the same figure given to j. by Roselyne “Cissie” Swig, the museum’s board president, in May.

Storm said the museum aims to break ground on its Jessie Street site by spring 2006 and complete construction by late 2007.

In late 2001, the museum had entered into a merger with Berkeley’s Judah L. Magnes Museum, only to separate in February 2003, severing a failed partnership that resulted in bitter feelings on both sides of the bay.

Before the merger, the new San Francisco museum had been tentatively set to open by 2002 or 2003, but because of financial difficulties, that date has come and gone.

The new design is “certainly a more compact and efficient building,” said Storm.

“We are moving along successfully with the process here.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.