City administrators and their nonprofit counterparts have floated many proposals to address the problem. One would be for the city to absorb the overhead costs for its social services programs, which would essentially double its burden: After forfeiting payroll tax revenues from the Mid-Market tech companies, it would then tack on the cost of running all the social services that could no longer afford to rent there.

Another option would be to set aside some tax revenues from commercial leases and create a fund to underwrite nonprofits. Perhaps the most logical would be a swap-off: For every hundred thousand feet of commercial space, the city would have to set aside a certain number for social services, priced below market rates.

The only other option would be some kind of scorched-earth policy to drive all of the homeless out of town, creating the kind of high-priced urban district that could shift the whole culture of San Francisco. (Recall this is a city that routinely passes bond measures for supportive housing.) And if real estate prices are endangering social services, they'll soon put shoestring arts organizations at risk, too.

San Francisco isn't a monolith. Even if many of its policies coddle tech companies, there's still a strong progressive bloc on the Board of Supervisors, and an Office of Economic and Workforce Development set up to protect nonprofits and artists. Yet they can't control the vicissitudes of a hot real estate market. Property values might rise so high that even good intentions can't stem the tide.

With so many other neighborhood nonprofits facing the same predicament, Nielsen and others worry that arts organizations won't survive, either; the going commercial rate of $50-$60 a square foot per year would prove challenging for any tenant without a nest egg or a viable revenue stream. Even nonprofits that sell tickets, such as art museums or theaters, often rely on underwriters or private donations to pay at least part of their overhead. Private funding doesn't typically rise with inflation.

Boxcar Theatre faced the downside of a booming real estate market this year when its landlord announced plans to sell the Tenderloin building that houses its office and studio — the same one that the City's Office of Economic and Workforce Development helped it procure in 2010, with a $20,000 subsidy for renovations. If the building sells, and its new owners aren't interested in harboring a theater, then Olivero might have to find cheaper digs in SOMA or the Mission — areas that, he says, are quickly becoming unaffordable.

The theater's much older peer, Intersection for the Arts, was similarly imperiled after getting priced out of the newly gentrified Mission District. Two years ago, Intersection moved to a mixed-use office space in the Chronicle building called Impact Hub, which describes itself as "part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center": The space holds 125 work stations, a slew of dome-shaped conference rooms, and kitchens with kombucha on tap; Intersection's roommates include Presidio Graduate School, the managing consultant firm Schaffer & Combs, and most recently, Yahoo. To an outsider they all seem like strange bedfellows, even if the tech companies moved in, ostensibly, to live cheek-by-jowl with a younger creative class. Intersection's interim executive director Arthur Combs touts the arrangement for being both inventive and sustainable, but program director Sean San Jose is more guarded.

"It's two neighborhoods to learn — the outside one, and the one in this building," San Jose says, noting that some of the building's features don't befit a performing arts space. In a curious irony of old-world protective infrastructure meeting the new sharing economy, Hearst Corporation, which owns the property, has everything shielded behind double-layer glass doors with security pass-codes. Such architectural features strike San Jose as vestiges of "an old fascist regime." He's reserving judgment on the shared-office-space model, which has kept Intersection alive, but might also constrain its programming — from an observer's standpoint, at least. (You can only do so much with a modular stage and a communal floor plan.) "This idea of being a center for innovation — we're still actually learning how that works," San Jose says. "You can't put two languages together and expect that we'll automatically say the same things."

A native of San Francisco's Mission District, San Jose is still somewhat bewildered by the changes happening around him. "Our minds are a little wrapped around trying to get the Google people to watch our things," he says, crossing one tattooed arm over the other. "Like, you get the tax break, you get the real estate. Are you gonna invest back in the community?"

That might not matter for institutions like the Strand, which already has a bevy of angel donors and a $32.5 million capital campaign behind it. At last week's ribbon-cutting, Mayor Lee stood woodenly beside State Sen. Mark Leno and Supervisor Jane Kim, promising a crowd of reporters and MFA students that, contrary to conventional wisdom, art begat a tech sector — not the other way around. "Without the arts, I don't think the technology sector would want to be here," Lee said.

To many artists, that might be a point of contention. Yet Perloff seems to have accepted the credo that you can build it, and perhaps they won't come, and maybe that's okay. The Strand, is just one element of a district that itself resembles the stage set for a theater, with the constant scene changes, and the political actors flitting in and out, and the long-time residents looking more and more like a Greek chorus. San Francisco is, after all, a city besotted with theater districts. Or at least with the idea of them.

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@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.


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. 


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.


@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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