Those working for a “New Tenderloin” received great news last week: an art gallery will replace a porno shop on long troubled lower Turk Street. The Gray Area Gallery is relocating from SOMA, and joining with the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District and the San Francisco Recovery Theatre in transforming a longtime porn shop at 80 Turk into a positive space for the neighborhood. The willingness of these groups to relocate to a 5500 square foot space at Turk and Taylor signals growing confidence in the Tenderloin’s future as a safe and desirable low-income community.

When an art gallery moves to the worst block in the Tenderloin, times are clearly changing. This is particularly true when the prior use of the site was a large porno emporium that contributed mightily to the community’s negative image.

The SRO’s with the worse conditions tend to be those above porno shops. These businesses frequently have drug dealers doing business outside, and take no action to remove them.

Turk Street between Taylor and Mason has long been the center of the Tenderloin porn industry. Until the late 1980’s, there was a massive porn/strip show emporium at the site of the former Compton Cafeteria/Hyland Hotel at Turk and Taylor. The northeast corner of the intersection was also a porn mecca, as was numerous stores on the first block of Turk.

When the huge porn retail space at 80 Turk suddenly became vacant earlier this year (it relocated to Market Street), an opportunity was created to change the street’s character. Thanks to the Gray Area Gallery and the other two groups, this mission may soon be accomplished.

The potential transformation of Lower Turk is also being aided by the Salvation Army’s construction of the Joan Croc Community Center on the 200 block of Turk. This will greatly increase positive street activity from those going in and out of the site, which also will have over 100 new affordable housing units. The center gives the Tenderloin a long overdue place for teenagers to hang out after school and during evenings engaged in constructive pursuits.

A 90- unit housing development at the long vacant KGO-TV building at Golden Gate is slated to begin construction next month. This will eliminate another longtime site of drug activity, and bring positive new street life to an area where night safety has been an issue.

Past experience shows that making the Tenderloin safer and more desirable requires these types of physical changes to sites, not more police. And eliminating such problem spots not only costs no taxpayer money, but it actually increases the city’s revenue when vacant and underutilized sites are developed.

The Tenderloin is a long way from declaring victory, but the path to success is becoming clear.

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