Proposed Mixed-Use Building in San Francisco’s Central SoMa to Emphasize Office, Larger Housing Units

By Meghan Hall

When proposing mixed-use projects for development in the City of San Francisco, property owners and architects typically focus on maximizing the available number of residential units in an effort to make the most of their investment. However, a new 23-story skyscraper proposed for 543 Howard Street by Gordon Development would do just the opposite.

Gordon Development hopes to construct at 350-foot tall mixed-use high-rise with 49,500 square feet of general office space, 11,000 square feet of retail and events space and 29,000 feet of residential space. However, there are only six dwelling units proposed for the project, and nine accessory off-street parking spaces. 36 bicycle spaces are also included in the plans.

The lack of proposed housing was not missed by the City of San Francisco. In its response to the original project proposal, the city “strongly encouraged” Gordon Development to include additional residential units on the site, calling the number of units “substantially lower than the number of dwelling units that could be built within the 29,500 square feet of proposed residential use.”

The site is located within the Transbay Redevelopment Plan Area, bounded by Market St. to the north, the Embarcadero to the east, Folsom St. to the south and Hawthorne St. to the west. The plan stipulates that developers must make 35 percent of their projects’ proposed residential units permanently affordable. The city hopes to add 4,400 units of housing in the coming years through the Transbay Redevelopment Plan.

543 Howard is also just one of five proposed high-rises along Howard Street: Development projects for 540 Howard St., 555 Howard St., 524 Howard St. and 542-550 Howard St. are all either approved or under review by the city. When completed, the four developments combined could add around 768 residential units and 225 hotel rooms to San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.

The district is one of San Francisco’s busiest, and the project site is blocks away from the Montgomery BART Station, Union Square and San Francisco’s Westfield Mall. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Moscone Center are also located nearby.

The project would combine two parcels of land. The first parcel is developed presently with a four-story, 14,500 square foot building built in 1925. The commercial building is reflective of the Renaissance Revival style common during the time of its construction, and the city has identified the building as a potential historic resource. Currently, the building is occupied by Denver-based Galvanize, a co-working company. The structure would be maintained and incorporated into the new tower given its historical significance, and the entire project would be subject to review by the Planning Department’s Historic Preservation staff. The second parcel is a 4,000 square foot parking lot.

In addition to review by the preservation staff, the City has asked Gordon Development to clarify the use of the planned event space to determine whether or not plans are code complaint and require additional authorization.

The project will undergo Planning Code Review, and the City of San Francisco has asked Gordon Development for clarification on several of the more technical aspects of the project.

Erik Robbins, the owner of the property and of Gordon Development, did not immediately return The Registry’s request for comment.