News Clipping Fish Seek Safe Harbor During Aquarium Rehab
Dan Levy []
San Francisco Chronicle []
November 21, 2002

In a town with too many empty buildings and nobody to fill them, who would believe that the most coveted tenants are 6,000 live fish and some pickled sharks?

We’re talking about the critters housed at the California Academy of Sciences, which is getting ready to rebuild its aging facility in Golden Gate Park and needs a place to keep the fish temporarily.

Two landlords actively competed for the catch: the old commissary at the Presidio and a dot-com office building on Howard Street near Moscone Center.

Bob Jenkins, director of the academy’s Steinhart Aquarium, said he needs upwards of 100,000 square feet, or enough room to house 175 exhibition tanks, 400,000 gallons of water and research collections that include millions of dead insects.

“We need to have a reliable water source and we have to be able to drain to a sanitary sewer,” he said. “And you need parking convenience, access to public transportation, all the usual amenities.”

The board of directors of the Academy of Sciences voted Wednesday night to negotiate for the Howard Street address, which would be open to the public while the academy renovates its Golden Gate Park facility.

“We’re really excited about being in a new part of the city,” said Executive Director Patrick Kociolek.

The Presidio could still end up housing the fish, penguins and other sea critters if the academy can’t reach a deal with IRP Yerba Buena Associates, landlord for 875 Howard St.


It’s another measure of how bleak the San Francisco commercial real estate market is that the search for a glorified fish hotel turned into one of the most competitive real estate deals of the year.

“In this market, if you’re an owner sitting on an empty building, you’d have to take a serious look at any creditworthy tenant,” said Dan Cressman, managing director at real estate services firm Grubb & Ellis in San Francisco.

Academy officials have yet to sign a lease for the Howard Street property, although the vote Wednesday authorizes a letter of intent. Office space around Moscone has been renting anywhere from $17 to more than $20 per square foot, Cressman said.

But the aquarium is a highly specialized tenant with unusual needs, such as water filtration and temperature systems.

Those quirks could end up helping the aquarium as it negotiates the nitty- gritty details of an expected four-year deal with IRP Yerba Buena Associates.

“They could come in as if it were a movie soundstage, build a world within a world, then take it all down and leave,” Cressman said. “That would be a good template for them.”


If those negotiations fail, Paul Osmundson, director of real estate for the Presidio Trust, believes his sprawling 165,000-square-foot commissary would fill the bill.

“It’s like a big Safeway with a warehouse on one side,” he said. “Flexible is a good word.”

But the Howard Street building, renovated during the dot-com days for failed e-commerce firm MarchFirst, has sturdier construction, upgraded seismic systems and a central location near public transportation lines and freeways, Kociolek said.

And, as opposed to the collection of buildings considered at the Presidio, the Howard Street building would allow the academy to keep research, exhibition and education space under one roof.

So now the fish, some pickled sharks and millions of dead bugs will be on their way to a neighborhood that already has an audience of daily museum-goers and out-of-town conventioneers.

The Steinhart folks already are planning the logistics of the move, which would take place next fall when the academy shuts down for the four-year renovation.

The largest animals in the collection, including Bubba the 100-pound sea bass and a prized Australian lungfish, would be lifted out of their current tanks with stretchers and packed in custom coolers.

Penguins would go in cages similar to portable kennels. Smaller fish— rainbows, malis, tetras and the like—would be placed in special leak-proof plastic bags and transported in a manner not unlike how you’d pack fish you buy at a pet store.

“For the most part, we’ll use trucks and plastic bags with water and oxygen lines,” Jenkins said. “But the alligators we’ll send to a farm. It’s not a good idea to keep alligators in temporary quarters. Someone always gets hurt.”

The aquarium’s nurse sharks, popular with visitors but fairly common specimens, also will be taken out of the collection and given to other marine caregivers as a way to save space.

“They’re much too big,” Jenkins said of the six sharks. “A third to a quarter of all the water at the aquarium is dedicated to a few animals.”


A major issue will be finding a reliable water source and drainage system. Jenkins said the aquarium will truck in salt water in 15,000-gallon batches from Ocean Beach for the benefit of the fishes.

Inside the building, the plan is to create an industrial, stripped-down look in the temporary aquarium. Behind-the-scenes operations such as feeding will be part of the viewing experience for visitors.

“The design hope is that all of the aquarium would be on display,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to spend money on holding tanks. Why not put them on display? It’s a sneaky way to double our exhibition space.”


The Steinhart Aquarium and other collections at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park are relocating to temporary quarters next year. Here are some of the creatures involved in the move:

  • 6,000 live fish
  • 1 Australian lungfish, oldest living animal in collection
  • 8 alligator gars
  • Bubba the sea bass
  • Mari the African black-footed penguin
  • Arapaima, a rare Amazonian fish
  • 1 lemon shark, preserved in alcohol
  • 26,000 drawers of dead insects
  • 1 million dead spiders
  • 250,000 jars of preserved fish
  • Extinct Xerces blue butterflies, preserved

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle

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