Mid-Market Metamorphosis will be Messy

A few weeks ago the local paper noted that some outdoor chess tables in the mid-market area got rolled up by the police. The outcry that followed is nothing that compares to the current debate about residential tenants in two commercial buildings that don’t comply with zoning or residential housing standards.

While these might seem like un-related issues, the root cause is the same: the mid-market area of San Francisco is transforming, and the new arrivals will be making a lot of changes. And by changes, let’s be clear: The San Francisco that was isn’t the San Francisco that is about to be. As I’ve written before, we are town that was once a beacon for outcasts and outlaws but is now a beacon for overachievers.

Mid Market Area photos, October 2013, click any for a larger version/slideshow:

While I was taking pictures, I ran across the Odd Fellows building at the southeast corner of 7th and Market. The building (originally built for a fraternal organization dedicated to friendship, love, and truth founded in NYC by three boat builders, a comedian, and a vocalist) is an excellent metaphor for the changes happening in the neighborhood itself.

The mid-market area has never fit neatly into any category – it is too far west to be a part of the civic center corridor that is bisected by Van Ness Ave, not quite far enough east  or north to be the tenderloin (and downtown, beyond that), and too far north to be mistaken for it’s formerly industrial southern neighbor, SOMA – and so for decades, the people that called the neighborhood home also defied easy categorization.  For better or for worse, that’s changing.

Twitter is moving in as a neighborhood anchor tenant, the trinity plaza apartment complex is being completely redeveloped (the old buildings are now gone, some of the new buildings have been completed, some remain to be constructed), the fountain where the homeless once bathed has been shutdown and fenced off, chess tables that might or might not have been a front for other activities have been removed, neighborhood rents are on the rise, and when I was there on a Thursday at lunch time, there were more police in the plaza than food trucks serving lunch.

Just as the Odd Fellows building has lost it’s old ground-floor tenants to a formula-retail chain CVS, so is the mid-market area losing it’s old tenants in exchange for new – and very different – tenants. Like it or not, I think it is a good example of the changes we will continue to encounter along the way to the next version of San Francisco.

What will that San Francisco look like? Who will be able to afford it? How will it balance its history of activism and civic engagement with opportunities for growth and change?

Here’s the harsh reality for the mid-market area: office workers don’t want to hop over passed out homeless drunks and panhandlers while walking to and from their office jobs. It doesn’t matter if the office job is writing code for Twitter or making powerpoint presentations for Chevron, workers have a (perfectly reasonable, IMHO) desire to be able to walk to and from their offices without being assaulted, panhandled, puked or watching anyone take a piss. I mean, really.

When a bunch of workers move into a formerly vacant office building, lots of things happen beyond just the building; everything is connected. Employees want a building in a clean and safe neighborhood. So cops start enforcing laws they haven’t enforced in a long while. Then the smaller buildings see an increase in value because of the big tenant and the neighborhood improvements, like less panhandling. So more firms suddenly start showing interest in opening up offices in the neighborhood. Which causes more demand for new restaurants, gyms, bars and so on and so forth. It’s an almost self-powered feedback loop.

Who Moves Next?

How does the mid-market transformation play out? Who gets to stay, who ends up leaving? It’s a neighborhood in flux, and definitely a neighborhood worth keeping an eye on. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Birthday, San Francisco Public Library

Happy Birthday, Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library! We would have raised a book to toast your birthday yesterday, but the city street signs hogged the limelight with their makeover.

When I was at the library over the weekend, they had a banner up celebrating the opening of the flagship library location, the Civic Center Main Library.

It’s across the plaza from city hall, next to the Asian Art museum, and is a public facility which means… that you can pretty much count on encounters with people from the the homeless and indigent populations that camp out nearby.

I want you to visit the library and marvel in such a great public resource, but I don’t want it to freak you out, so here are my tips for visiting the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library:

  1. Don’t use the bathrooms on the main floor. They will be scary, and most likely involve sitting in a stall next to someone having a psychotic episode and/or a very loud and very public conversation with the voices in their head. There are other bathrooms in the building, find them.
  2. The Fisher Childen’s Center in the library is an awesome place to take your kids. There are plenty of tables and workspaces, it can be a great spot to read together, do homework, or otherwise enjoy a quiet spot conducive to concentrating. Kids can also check out their own books (assuming they have a library card), which my daughter always finds to be super fun.
  3. If you need to use the internet but didn’t bring your own device, the internet stations are heavily in demand and lock you into using Internet Explorer. Which might make you cry if you use gmail.
  4. The SF history center is in the building and it’s awesome – well, awesome if you’re into that sort of thing (which I am).

Here are a few more photos from the main branch of the library:
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In Which Matt Does A Public Service…

750 Van Ness

Interested in buying a condo at 750 Van Ness? A REO (foreclosed) home is currently on the market in the building. Its being advertised by the listing agent as a regular condo, but after an inquiry from a client I did some research and determined that it is actually a BMR condo (below market rate).

This is, to be blunt, a really big deal and a really big difference.

In an effort to provide affordable housing, any new development must set aside a portion of their homes for what are known as BMR or below market rate homes. The homes have deed restrictions on them, and their initial sales price is set by the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Any future resales are governed by the deed restriction, which mandates a sales price based on bay area incomes. In addition, the homes can only be purchased by first time home buyers and must be owner occupied. There are some other restrictions as well, but these are the big ones: sales price based upon bay area income index, first time home buyers only, must be owner occupied.

The tax records list this home as a “Condominium BMR” and the last sales price was a goofy number (usually sales prices are round numbers like $399,000 but this one was something very exact like $254,376). Based on the past purchase price I put a call into the listing agent, who has yet to return my phone call (3 days and counting).

I then contacted the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and was able to verify that the condo is indeed a part of the BMR program. The Mayor’s Office said they were in touch with the listing agent to have the listing corrected, but as of this morning the property is still not advertised as a BMR condo. While a buyer would hopefully discover the deed restrictions during their due diligence, I say why waste your time making an offer…

I have not included information about the property address or listing agent as I do not want to run afoul of MLS or Code of Ethic violations for advertising another agent’s listing and/or appearing to make unsolicited remarks about another agent. So let’s be clear: I’m not trying to advertise their listing, and if you want to bring me up on code of ethics violations for protecting consumers, go for it!

If you’d like the address, please drop me an email or phone call and I’ll share the details with you.