Virtuous Cycle on Van Ness

San Francisco City Hall Van Ness Avenue The Registry real estate

Mid-Market renewal spreads west.


By Nathalie Pierrepont

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]awnshops and strip clubs once crowded the intersection of San Francisco’s Van Ness and Market streets, casting a pall that helped doom the west end of Market to neglect and decline. Now the crossroads is at the vanguard of renaissance, attracting millions of dollars in private-sector investment.

The city approved a payroll-tax exclusion district for the neighboring mid-Market area in 2011. The dramatic impacts are visible everywhere: Construction cranes pierce the skyline. Metal scaffolding and colorfully painted plywood walls crowd the sidewalks. The tax policy exempts employers from a 1.5 percent payroll levy for hires made after the firms relocate to the area. The incentive has drawn Twitter, One Kings Lane, CallSocket, Yammer, Dolby and Square—and their roughly 3,750 employees.

[quote]“[Van Ness and Market Street] won’t ever be gentrified like South Beach. It will remain a pretty diverse area.” Marc Babsin, principal, Emerald Fund[/quote]

Now the good vibes are emanating west as the young and educated workers coming to the area search for housing and amenities. “We’re basically creating a new neighborhood,” said Marc Babsin, principal of Emerald Fund, a San Francisco real estate developer that is transforming a former office building at 100 Van Ness Ave. into luxury apartments. Construction on the 400-foot tower began in April.

Market at Van Ness long has had the attributes for a bustling and prosperous neighborhood. Flanked by the booming South of Market district and the quietly reviving Hayes Valley, City Hall and the Civic Center and San Francisco’s high-rise downtown, the central location, accessibility to public transit and proximity to cultural and governmental institutions should make it attractive. But revival has been a “long, long time coming,” Babsin said.

Including the neighboring rough-and-tumble Tenderloin, 31 percent of households—more than three times the citywide rate—live in “extreme poverty,” earning annual incomes below $15,000, according to city research completed in 2011. While more than half of San Francisco residents have bachelor’s degrees or more, only a third of the area population does. Nearly two-thirds of the residents are men, fewer than a quarter are families, and roughly half have jobs. The area has three times the liquor stores as other neighborhoods including San Francisco’s Bayview, Bernal Heights, Excelsior and Inner Richmond, and Oakland’s Fruitvale.

Middle-class white San Franciscans migrated out of the Market and Van Ness area to the suburbs after World War II, according to the city. Then in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake brought down the Central Freeway (an extension of U.S. 101) after it crossed Market Street, laying bare the need for urban renewal. It took nearly 20 years, but in 2007, San Francisco adopted the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan. But because of the financial crisis, many development projects that were launched shortly thereafter were put on hold.

The Market and Octavia Plan envisions a transit-oriented, high-density, mixed-use neighborhood at Van Ness and Market, with buildings reaching 400 feet to create “a visual landmark.” Very few other districts in the city excluding Downtown and South of Market are designated for high-rise development, Babsin said.

“The planners thought that if we allocate sites for tall buildings we can actually get some kind of iconic neighborhood, and people will build off of that,” said Glenn Rescalvo, a partner at Handel Architects LLP. “Each of the four corners of that intersection are flanked with tall buildings, and it’s setting up the corridor of Market Street.”

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Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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