City Delays Slowed Mid-Market’s Retail Progress

by on February 21, 2017

City Delays Preceded the New 6x6 Retail Center in Mid-Market
City Delays Preceded the New 6x6 Retail Center in Mid-Market

The SF Chronicle’s always astute J.K. Dineen described on February 18 how Mid-Market housing projects took years to get approved despite strong neighborhood support (“Popular Mid-Market housing proposals wait years for OK”). But Mid-Market’s progress was also slowed by city delays on major retail and streetscape projects.

Planning Nearly Kills CityPlace

Consider the nearly completed shopping center 6 x 6, a six story retail building on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The complex has yet to attract any tenants.

This project, originally called CityPlace, was first proposed in 2007. This was over three years before Twitter announced plans to relocate to Mid-Market. After decades of investors ignoring that portion of Market Street,  CityPlace now offered a real chance to jump start Mid-Market’s revival.  Everyone who had spent years working to improve Mid-Market saw CityPlace as a potential game changer.

One would expect that city officials rolled out the red carpet to get construction started on the $150 million CityPlace investment. The project was bringing 250,000 square feet of retail and hundreds of jobs into a long economically distressed area.

But that’s not what happened.

As I described on June 1 2010 (“The Real Obscenity at SF’s Planning Department”), “in San Francisco, even a game-changing project like City Place could not escape Planning’s obsession with achieving consensus. And since at least one credible person had problems with including parking in a project that would create hundreds of construction and permanent retail jobs (and even the lowest paid are governed by the city’s higher local minimum wage), that meant that City Place’s approval pace had to be slowed down to address such concerns. So rather than get on the fast track, City Place was placed on the standard Planning schedule.”

Only in San Francisco could testimony from one member of the public and concern from one Planning Commissioner stop such a vital, job producing project. But that is exactly what happened to CityPlace following its initial Planning Commission hearing.

The significance of the delay was not clear at the time. The CityPlace website had foreseen a fall 2009 groundbreaking. Naïve as I then was, I noted that “if lucky, and if the Commission approves the project on June 10, this high-profile revenue and job creating project will start only a year late.”

But the developers of CityPlace were not lucky.

Thanks to the Planning Commission delays, groundbreaking on the most ambitious investment in Mid-Market in over fifty years did not occur until November 12, 2014. That’s five years after original developer David Rhodes anticipated.

The project was now owned by a Texas company, Cypress Equities. Cypress Equities owner Chris Maguire said at the groundbreaking that Cypress wants to “take its time to get it right”—which, by the lack of any tenants, it appears to be doing.

But let’s keep the real history of this project in mind.

In 2007,  David Rhodes, a conscientious developer with an ambitious vision for a revived Mid-Market, offered San Francisco a bold revitalization proposal.  But instead of being applauded, the project was treated with distrust and skepticism by a Planning Department and Commission unable to appreciate its importance.

Those concerned with Mid-Market’s future understood the value of CityPlace, which is why 99% of those testifying at the first approval hearing  backed the project. But the Commission allowed one of its members to hold up the project because he felt it had too much parking, and this delay proved fatal to CityPlace.

Although the project finally got approved, the delays cost Rhodes his financing. The project remained in limbo until Cypress Equities bought it at auction. It now nears completion in a far less hospitable retail climate than CityPlace would have confronted had city officials acted like they cared if it got built.

With CityPlace in limbo, Mid-Market backers saw Twitter’s planned relocation to the area and the Mid-Market/Tenderloin tax credit as essential for the neighborhood’s revival.  But while the tax credit’s enactment in spring 2011 represented a dramatic shift in City Hall’s support for Mid-Market, this  came too late to help David Rhodes.  CityPlace, which should have been San Francisco’s largest retail project in a generation, was already stalled.

Better Market Streets

Another sad story of city delays slowing Mid-Market’s revival concerns the heralded Better Market Streets plan. Mayor Lee announced the first series of community workshops to create a Better Market Street plan on April 29, 2011. A second series of workshops was announced in July 2012, and the final plan was supposed to begin implementation in 2013.

This did not happen.

On June 17, 2013, I wrote a story whose title asked “Can Supes Break SF’s Better Market Street Logjam?” The answer has turned out to be no.

The ambitious and essential Better Market Streets plan was originally supposed to begin implementation in 2013. My 2013 story noted the start date was moved back to 2017, but the construction component of Better Market Streets has not begun.

There has been some progress. In 2015, the SFMTA did vote to remove private cars on Market from 8th to 3rd streets. Bike lanes have also been expanded since the Better Market Streets plan emerged.

But for retailers and those opening restaurants in Mid-Market, foot traffic has not increased. Craig Young of Tidewater Capital (whose 1028 Market project was recently approved) was quoted in Dineen’s story to the effect that the lack of residents in the area made operating The Hall financially difficult. I agree. But it’s also true that had Better Market Streets been timely implemented, there would be a lot more foot traffic from non-residents that could help support local businesses.

Due to this delay, Mid-Market’s physical streetscape is not noticeably improved over 2011. This will change by the summer when The Proper and Yotel hotels open at 7th and Market, but the transformative changes envisioned for Mid-Market still await full implementation of the acclaimed Better Market Streets plan.

The good news is that despite all these delays, housing developments slated for Mid-Market will get built. 6 x 6 and the Hibernia Bank will eventually get leased and the Better Market Streets plan will get implemented. Mid-Market will finally be revitalized after nearly sixty years of decline—though it will have taken a few years longer than it should have.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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