Contemporary Jewish Museum on the verge of breaking ground

Here’s a newsflash the movers and shakers at the Contemporary Jewish Museum wish we’d seen more of through the years: Everything’s fine.

Last week, in accordance with its agreement with the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority, the museum demonstrated that it had amassed enough money — some $28 million — to complete the future structure’s “core and shell.”

With that hurdle out of the way, the museum will be running in the open field pretty much until its planned groundbreaking in summer, just prior to which it will have to prove it can cover the structure’s $44 million price tag.

“It’s not as if we’ve reached a milestone with our permit and all of a sudden we’re celebrating,” said museum CEO Connie Wolf, downplaying the achievement.

The CJM’s march toward building a home of its own away from the ground floor of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation building has been a decidedly serpentine affair; groundbreaking, in fact, was originally set for 2002.

After running through two architects, merging and unmerging with the Judah L. Magnes Museum, watching finances dry up, being forced to ask architect Daniel Libeskind to scale back his design and amending their agreement with the redevelopment authority seven times, the museum is obviously happy to announce that everything is on schedule and the money is in place.

In fact, noted Amy Neches, the redevelopment authority’s Yerba Buena Center project manager, the museum is a bit ahead of the game, having lined up nearly $33.3 million to date, exceeding the required goal by more than $5 million.

The structure, to be built at the Jessie Street power station location, is slated to be about 63,000 square feet, down from the 100,000 square foot building originally designed by Libeskind (which would have cost $20 million more).

His plan, as it stands, is a striking, avant-garde and irregularly shaped contrast of metallic electric blue and the red brick walls of the structure’s existing exterior.

Wolf added that the museum is still in its “quiet phase” of fund-raising, which should stretch until summer. That will be followed by the “major gift” phase, and then the “public” phase. After breaking ground in the summer, she hopes to complete construction by late 2007 and snip the ribbon in early ’08.

The overall fund-raising goal remains at $75 million, which museum board chair Roselyne “Cissie” Swig told j. in May of 2004 was half accounted for. Half of $75 million is $37.5 million, and Wolf noted that some of that money may have been earmarked for the museum’s endowment fund, not building costs.

When it comes to amassing the $44 million needed to break ground, the money doesn’t necessarily have to be in the bank. Wolf said the museum is looking into using tax-exempt bonds.

The redevelopment authority is optimistic that the CJM has found a timeline that will work this time. Neches said the seven amendments to the original agreement with the museum are par for the course — some San Francisco buildings have cracked a dozen. She is fully confident things will move along on schedule — this schedule.

“I think the project will move forward. I think they’ll start work in June,” she said. “I have had no indication that they’re not.”

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.