Mezzanine fights for a few extra months in business, as landlord plays hardball

In November, popular SoMa music venue Mezzanine (444 Jessie St.) announced via Facebook that it had lost its lease and would be permanently closing its doors in October 2019, after 16 years in operation.

At the time, owner Deborah Jackman said that the building's owners, the Chritton family, and their brokerage firm, Colton Commercial & Partners, had increased the venue's rent by 600 percent, with the goal of turning it into office space instead.

The resulting public outcry over the loss of Mezzanine, known for its live music performances and club nights, has since brought the Chrittons and Colton back to the negotiating table. But Jackman says they're still playing hardball.

In her November statement, Jackman expressed her hope to keep the club open through January 2020. October through December are Mezzanine's busiest months, culminating in a popular annual New Year's Eve party.

But while her landlords have since expressed their willingness to give her until January 2020 to close, Jackman says they and their brokerage firm are still attempting to charge two and a half times her regular rent for those few extra months.

"They want to go through my financials, and up the rent two and a half times what I pay now, just for these four months to stay open," she told Hoodline this week.

Photo: Andy L./Yelp

Mezzanine is one of the city's few remaining independently owned music venues, and the largest woman-owned venue in the city. Over the years, it's hosted performances by a wide array of high-profile artists, such as Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, Florence and the Machine, and LCD Soundsystem, among others.

It also employs more than 35 people, who have been "hit hard by the news," Jackman said.

The beginning of the end for the club came this past fall, when Jackman wasn't given the opportunity to negotiate a new lease. Her request for a three-month extension to get through New Year's Eve was also rejected.

"Basically, this building has been in my family since 1978, and their rent hasn't changed in 20 years," David Chritton, who co-owns Mezzanine's building with Todd and Scott Chritton, told KQED in November. "They can't afford to be here at this site. They're not making what this site should be. It's just economics."

But the flurry of news articles about Mezzanine's impending closure "ended up freaking the owner of the building out, because they didn't know that there would be so much negative attention," Jackman said.

It also drew the attention of departing District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes Mezzanine.

"I asked the property owner and Deborah to come in, so that I could understand both sides of the story and understand what they both wanted," Kim told Hoodline. "It's complicated, but also very typical of a property that has been held by a family for a long time in a neighborhood that's completely changed."

Kim said she made it clear to the building's owners that a change-of-use authorization from the Planning Commission would be required to turn a building that once housed live performances into office space.

"They do need a conditional use permit, and they are going to go through a very political process at the Planning Commission," she said.

Her suggestion for a compromise: let Jackman keep Mezzanine through January 2020, and then part ways.

"The building owners understandably want to generate more revenue for that property, and Deborah wanted to keep Mezzanine for at least four more months ... when they make most of their revenue," Kim added. "It's a very reasonable ask."

Two days after meeting with Kim, the Chrittons came back with an offer to extend Mezzanine's lease for four months, until January 2020. Jackman took the offer.

"I'd love to be able to stay open longer than that, but the most immediate and pressing concern for me was that they just let us finish the year out," she said.

Jackman was told she would receive a letter of intent from the Chrittons to sign. "They also told me that they were going to take the Colton people off the four-month extension deal," she said, removing the brokerage firm as a third-party intermediary in her dealings with the Chrittons.

Photo: Mezzanine/Facebook

However, Jackman ultimately received a letter of intent for a four-month lease issued by Colton Commercial, not the Chrittons -- and at two and a half times her current rent. Colton is also insisting that she open her books in order to do the deal.

"If Colton wants to talk about a long-term new lease for a year or two years or something like that, I'd potentially be interested," said Jackman, who has so far declined to sign the letter of intent. "But for four months, it's ridiculous to make me jump through all of these hoops."

Colton Commercial did not return a request for comment.

Jackman is still holding out hope that the Chrittons will work with her directly, and extend the current lease for four months without raising her rent. She says she has the support of new District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who was sworn in this week.

"Matt told me that Mezzanine will close 'over my dead body,'" Jackman said. (We reached out to Haney's office to confirm the statement, but his phone had just been connected and his staff said they were unprepared to comment.)

Even if Haney is inclined to intervene, it's not clear how he could keep Mezzanine's doors open. One potential option: introducing an interim control to prohibit new ground-floor office space South of Market, where many retail spaces are being converted into offices.

For now, scheduled performances at Mezzanine will go on as planned through October, as will an already scheduled Sweet 16 anniversary bash, set for April 2019.