Historically, Mid-Market just hasn't had a ton of enticements to draw in the 65,000 people who flock to Powell Street BART station and its cable car turnaround each day, says erstwhile real estate mogul David P. Addington, who once owned the Warfield Building. In 2009, Addington introduced a fruitless ballot measure to install billboards on the properties between Fifth and Seventh, which, he said, would bring in revenue but also turn Market into a mini-42nd. (Needless to say, Addington owned several of those properties.) Though the measure flopped, Addington's 42nd Street illusions lived on.

"Only a limited number of people ever cross Fifth Street and go west," he says. "If they did, then you could create an arts theater and entertainment district on par with the finest in the world."

That wasn't the last gasp for abortive transformation plans. In 2010 Newsom announced plans to resurrect the redevelopment strategy that failed five years prior, holding a press conference at Show Dogs, a new gourmet wiener eatery adjacent to the Warfield. By pooling $11.5 million from city coffers with federal loans from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Newsom planned to create low-interest loans for businesses, which in turn would turn the phalanx of neighborhood stereo outlets, homeless encampments, and strip clubs into a "cultural district." Although development efforts still doddered along, Newsom saw a couple of small victories that year — namely, the opening of Blick Art Materials on Sixth Street, in a storefront that once harbored a smaller competitor, Pearl Paint. Newsom turned the ribbon-cutting into a coronation, calling Blick a new "economic catalyst" for the neighborhood.

Carey Perloff in what used to be a porn theater lobby in the Strand Theatre.
Evan DuCharme
Carey Perloff in what used to be a porn theater lobby in the Strand Theatre.
Nancy Nielsen fears for the future of Mid-Market social service agencies.
Evan DuCharme
Nancy Nielsen fears for the future of Mid-Market social service agencies.

And so, through many cycles of death and regeneration, the Mid-Market arts district pipe dream persisted in San Francisco.

It wasn't until Lee and a coterie of other city politicians persuaded Twitter to move into a gutted Market Street furniture store that the long-deferred revitalization plans actually took shape. And it required something of a Faustian bargain. Over the past three years, city officials have bent over backward to keep tech firms happy. In 2012, San Francisco lost $14.1 million in potential revenue from tax breaks. Paradoxically, business tax collections also increased by 12 percent, a figure that tech-boom enthusiasts link to the newly stimulated economy.

And yet, by some measures, the city's love affair with tech has the cast of a handshake deal; tech companies get to expand their workforces with impunity, and in return, they've helped fund playgrounds, kept streets clean, and bring thousands of people to a once-sterile downtown.

At the same time, San Francisco squired various arts organizations and small businesses into the Mid-Market fold, trying to create a downtown that hews to the city's self-image. Ever-mindful of rising property values, the city is taking a more interventionist approach than it has in previous years, according to Amy Cohen, director of neighborhood business development for the mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. It's used a constellation of public-private partnerships to bankroll storefront improvements and loan programs, and it helped the Strand secure a federal tax break by creating a for-profit entity under the aegis of ACT.

But it's just one of many venues. Between the Golden Gate, Cutting Ball, EXIT, ACT Costume Shop, Boxcar, and Orpheum Theaters, not to mention nearby art spaces Bindlestiff Studio and Intersection for the Arts, Mid-Market has several thousand seats to fill each night. Addington doubts that another 300 at the Strand will be the tipping point. "We have about 10,000 seats here," he says, "and then you go beyond the Strand and you have Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera House — that's another 10,000. So now we're up to 23,000."

He worries it may be a tall order to put people in all of them. To housing activist Randy Shaw, that's inconsequential. So long as San Francisco nurtures its tech sector, it can always graft an arts district on top. If that means arranging sweetheart deals for tech companies, then so be it.

"Market Street's economic function was historically theaters," Shaw explains, "but they all closed by the 1960s. ... You can't just have theater be the driving force. There has to be private sector investment." He points to the benefits that Twitter created for Mid-Market, first by inducing local real estate firm Shorenstein Company to rehab a historic building, then by paving the way for residential development, which in turn created a new tax base. "We've had a number of other booms," Shaw says, "but no one was building at 10th and Market or 100 Van Ness."

Others, like former Supervisor Chris Daly, see it differently. In his eyes, Lee's plan for Mid-Market eerily parallels the '90s-era gentrification of San Francisco's Mission District, which allowed white hipsters to effectively colonize a working-class neighborhood. Daly says he felt the effects of the Mid-Market boom firsthand, when rising property values forced him to shutter the bar he owned at Market and Gough streets. He's still bitter about it.

"When folks ask what happened to Buck Tavern," Daly says, "I just tell them I got Twittered."

NEMA, the glittering cluster of high-rises that recently opened on 10th and Market streets, purports to be something called a "lifestyle pioneer." (NEMA stands for "New Market.") With its outdoor heated pool, full-time concierge desks, saline pool, electric car charging stations, oak-paneled solarium, and abundant Apple TVs — gadgets are the doilies that decorate the architecture — the buildings seem breathtaking and aspirational, a perfect monument for San Francisco's noveau riche. The apartments have quartz countertops and roller shades on the windows; the outdoor terraces afford sweeping bay views; Siri's soothing, computerized voice wafts through the elevator. An 800-square-foot one-bedroom goes for about $3,400 a month.

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7 comments
stacheone
stacheone

@Chetley You are incorrect. All of the nonprofit CBDs including the Mid Market CBD are making the land use decisions driven by the for profit company that created them.  The street cleaning and power washing is not necessary we have 311, the other stuff is chump change to what the CBD collects  from assessed property owners.  Why is the Mid Market "getting better?" It's because of the luxury condo and chain stores kicking out the little guys. www.stacheone.com

subcommandanteuno
subcommandanteuno

How do you know the man wearing the NPR T-shirt was "homeless?"

What about the Grant Building at the corner of 7th and Market? The owners drove out dozens of artists, non-profits, and small businesses to create a fantasy hostel for his son. It has been a boarded-up eyesore for several years now, not generating any revenue. Maybe he should be arrested and charged with fraud?

Anyways, this was a pretty half-hearted attempt at investigative journalism. The real story of the greed and corruption in City politics will require a little more effort. 

stacheone
stacheone

You failed to investigate or acknowledge the Mid Market Community Benefit District (CBD) who is making the underlying land use decisions causing this mid market boom.  And also state who is on that board which are real estate developers.

Dallas DeBurger
Dallas DeBurger

Will people really want to go there and have to dodge the thugs that hang in that area? I think not.

Chetley
Chetley

@stacheone The Mid-Market CBD doesn't make land use decisions--the San Francisco Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors do that.  What the CBD does is what the rest of the various other CBD's do scattered throughout the city, which is mainly help fund street cleaning, beautifications projections, and other general neighborhood upkeep and improvements.

 
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