AFTERBURN REPORT 2002
SAN FRANCISCO OFFICE
Burning Man moved into its first office space, located on 3rd Street near Evans, in the spring of 1999. We outgrew the space quickly and annexed another space in a nearby building in the same complex. The main office included a warehouse for playa transportation staging. Having our co-workers divided between two offices made life complicated. As the event grew, so did the office staff. We soon found ourselves bumping into each other, and by late 2001, we had completely run out of office space except for build-out options. We also found ourselves short of meeting space for more than 15 people. We realized we needed to find a space that could accommodate our growth and still nurture a feeling that we were connected to each other.
In late 2001, staff began to examine the feasibility of moving, even buying a building, or expanding the existing space. It was quickly apparent that purchasing a building was out of the question. Though the rental market had improved since the crash of the dot.com industry, the value of owning hadn't changed enough to provide Burning Man a purchase opportunity. Potential plans for expansion were drawn up while research on rental options began. Our two landlords realized that our departure was possible and offered concessions to avoid losing us. We discovered that rents had dropped dramatically, and we'd be able to afford a larger place for the same rent we were paying for two cramped spaces.
The search was exhaustive due in part to the cutthroat market and two eager agents, one a past participant. We saw space as low as $0.68 a square foot--a long way from the $1.00 to $2.50/sq. ft. we saw in 1999. To avoid disturbing event-related activities with an untimely move, a decision was needed by late February. After narrowing the options to three and taking staff on a field trip, no space seemed just right. The decision was made to stop looking until the fall of 2003. Just as our deadline approached, one of the landlords of a previously rejected space called with an offer we couldn't refuse. In addition to significant improvements to the space and a 5-year lease, the rent would be exactly the same as we currently paid for twice as much space. Though the space was trashed and had been vacant for over 7 months, its potential became more apparent to us. Some staff members visited the space up to five times, and eventually the decision was made to take the space. Improvements took just over 4 weeks, which pushed back our preferred move-in date of April 1.
We moved into 1900 3rd Street on April 15, 2002. The space is approximately 10,000 sq. ft., the same amount as the total of our current and previous office spaces combined for the same amount of money. More space, all on one floor was an exciting concept, but we had a long way to go before we could conduct business there. Timing is everything, and when the space was available, we moved on it. But, as you can see by the photos, it was a very rough space. Major walls were removed, wires were removed and rerouted, skylights were installed, fresh paint rolled, and new carpet laid, creating a new space that has become our home. While the excitement of moving into a new space had to wait as all the reconstruction was completed, it was certainly worth the trouble.
The new building became a reflection of the playa. At times, the offices feel like theme camps surrounding the center space we call the Zocalo. Plants, photographs, and memorabilia decorate our new home. The servers moved from sharing a basement space with the fulfillment department to a full room of busy activity where maintenance and changes are always apparent. Volunteer Coordinators are able to look up and track information on computers in the volunteer room, which doubles as a conference room. DPW moved from a cement closet in the warehouse with one desk to a large, carpeted room with five desks and space left over for the sign shop, which created all the signs for the playa. Ticket processing moved from three small rooms into a single, large room called the 'Fishbowl' where everything related to tickets has become consolidated.
Those who had been crowded into small, dark offices now have rooms of their own. The Art Department, formerly separated into two different buildings, now has wall space to display the upcoming artwork, which gives everyone a chance to see and get excited by the upcoming year's art. Accounting is centralized, making it easier to locate and route paperwork. The print archive of our history is now easier to review, having its own alcove, instead of hunting for papers in the cold warehouse. The media center has grown from a corner in the old mezzanine to a lovely area with couches and better sound. The conference area for senior staff and the board has improved. We are no longer meeting on a table held up by paint buckets, constantly at risk of tipping. We finally have a kitchen, which has improved the eating habits of the office staff, since we can actually refrigerate food and prepare staff meals instead of ordering take out.
Our former cold and damp warehouse space was replaced with the 'Romper Room' where Café decor folks create props, signs are painted for the Town Hall Volunteer rally, and table space is available for collating many stacks of paper. We chose to forego renting warehouse space, since our last warehouse became a junkyard for people's castoff donations. In lieu of a physical warehouse, we have two shipping containers in the back area of the property that will be turned into a garden in the next year.
For those of us who work on Burning Man, the San Francisco office has become our second home and even an extension of ourselves. It is filled with memorabilia from the different events, archival goodies, and traces of our own personalities. Volunteers and staff members frequently visit. This new building has created a higher atmosphere of social activity, enabling the Burning Man staff to interact, socialize, and keep more organized. We are able to work better on projects, centralize our paperwork, and schedule more meetings more easily due to multiple meeting spaces.
The many diverse minds that run Burning Man and the San Francisco office have reinvented our environment once again.