By Jack Stubbs
The South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco has over the last couple of years in particular seen an explosion of development activity, with investors, architects and developers alike hoping to capitalize on the vibrant area, which is located just north of Mission Bay and adjacent to the Embarcadero.
In the most recent indication that interest in the area shows little sign of slowing—with a multitude of large-scale developments set to drastically transform the skyline in the coming quarters—another in-the-works project recently came another step closer to its eventual completion.
On February 20th, the San Francisco Design Commission gave the green light to the project team who are spearheading the efforts for One Vassar, a project that—upon its eventual completion sometime in 2023—will ultimately comprise 1.5 million square feet of commercial, residential and retail space across a 3.5-acre site located at 645 and 657 Harrison Street and 400 Second Street.
The team for the project includes One Vassar LLC, an entity that is affiliated with Lawrence Lui, president of San Francisco-based hotel developer Stanford Hotels Corp. As of this writing, the developer did not respond to an emailed request for comment about the project.
Eventually, the 1.5 million square foot mixed-use complex — which is highlighted by the prominence of a proposed 35-story, 489-unit residential building at 657 Harrison Street and a 200-foot tall, 469-room hotel at 645 Harrison — will include approximately 509,000 square feet of commercial office space, around 44,200 square feet of production/distribution/repair (PDR) space; 40,500 square feet of retail; 221,800 square feet of hotel use, and a 14,000 square foot childcare area, according to the applicant team’s submitted development plans. The project will also include approximately 326 below-grade parking spaces and 385 bicycle spaces.
Currently, the site is occupied by five buildings along Harrison Street, four of which would be demolished as part of the proposed development plans, while the existing historic building at 645 Harrison Street will be incorporated into the new development.
The childcare center and ground-floor retail will be located at 657 Harrison Street. The submitted project proposal calls for a 15-story, 469-key hotel, which will be built on top of the existing four-story PDR/office building at 645 Harrison Street. The hotel will contain ground-floor retail and a hotel restaurant, as well as a guest roof deck. The office component of the development—located at the other end of the site from the hotel—will entail the construction of a 27-story, 350-foot commercial building with ground floor retail and publicly-owned open space.
The design team includes locally-based architect Skidmore Owings & Merrill for the proposed office/hotel space, and San Francisco-based Solomon Cordwell Buenz, who is tasked with designing the proposed residential component.
Adding to a surrounding network of green-space in the nearby vicinity—including the Yerba Buena Gardens three blocks to the north and Oracle Park to the south on the edge of Mission Bay–One Vassar will also include approximately 40,800 square feet of residential open space, roughly 14,600 square feet of indoor/outdoor publicly-owned open space, and a 8,400 square foot, mid-block pedestrian area called Hawthorne Street Plaza.
At the recent Design Commission meeting, the project qualified for a streamlined environmental review, with the board members approving the various project plans with conditions.
And while the proposed redevelopment received positive news in its own right—with a tentative groundbreaking of the residential and hotel towers slated sometime in mid-2021—One Vassar ties into a larger city-wide initiative that is set to spur longer-term economic growth in the Central SoMa area.
The Central SoMa Plan, which was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in December 2018, is expected to deliver nearly 16 million square feet for new housing and jobs, over $2 billion in public benefits (33 percent of which will be allocated towards affordable housing and $500 million will go towards transit improvements), and funding for community services and the preservation of historic properties, according to the San Francisco Planning Commission’s web site.
Some of the nearby properties designated as Historic Landmarks in the SoMa Plan—a rectangular area bounded by Market Street, Townsend Street, 2nd Street and 6th Street—include the New Pullman Hotel, the Structural Ironworkers Local No. 77 Union Hall and Hotel Utah.
Along with a significant emphasis on historic preservation in the submarket, the Central SoMa Plan also reflects roughly seven years of outreach and engagement from the Planning Department to interested community members, neighborhood groups and stakeholders. Some of these include San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, SoMa Community Coalition South of Market Leadership Council and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.