Privately owned public park to open in SF's Rincon Hill


Amid the high rises springing up in San Francisco's Rincon Hill neighborhood, there's one patch of green space. It's meticulously manicured. The green grass glows in the sunlight and for months it's been empty, fenced off, private property.

"There's no public open space within nearly a half mile of where we stand today," said Matt O'Grady with the San Francisco Parks Alliance. "That is about to change."

At a public gathering, the SF Parks Alliance explained this grassy half-acre was always supposed to be public.

It was part of the deal when the real estate developers built these apartments.

But when it came time for them to hand it over to the city, the city couldn't afford to take it.

"How do you maintain a gift?" asked San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "How do you look the gift horse in the mouth and say we can't accept it because we can't maintain it."

Neighbors were upset. Hundreds signed a petition, begging them to find another way. After weeks of negotiating, they did.

"Emerald Park will be open to the public every day of the year, and importantly, it will cost the city nothing," said Emerald Fund President Alastair MacTaggart.

Emerald Park is named after Emerald Fund, the real estate developers who will continue to own and maintain it at a cost of about $45,000 a year.

Along with the non-profit Parks Alliance, they've filed a conservation easement. This means nobody, not even them, will ever be allowed to build on the land or make it private. In essence, they're donating it to the public.

"That we feel so fortunate to be able to give something back to the city where indeed we've left our hearts," MacTaggart said.

Mayor Ed Lee hinted he wouldn't mind similar donations from other developers in this fast growing neighborhood. The neighbor who started the petition couldn't be happier.

"Just pure generosity," Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker said. "It's totally unexpected and uncalled for, for them to commit to such, what could be a costly agreement."

There is one more piece left to put in place -- a children's play structure on this terrace overlooking the rest of the park. City leaders say once that's built, Emerald Park will open to the public around September 1.

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