The old, one-story building on the corner of Hyde Street and Golden Gate Avenue has been vacant since the end of 2015. The city has owned the former post office since 2016 and will someday turn it into affordable housing — as soon as architects, neighbors, politicians, and the Planning Department agree on a design and budget (a process which can take years). In the meantime, the sidewalk surrounding the shuttered facility is used by people for sleeping, dealing drugs, or emptying the nearby trash cans and sifting through the contents. It’s become a troublesome corner, and no one is happy about it.
But behind the scenes, there’s a plan in place: to tear the boards off the windows and build San Francisco’s first-ever women-run food marketplace.
La Cocina — the food entrepreneurship program that helped launch such businesses as Azalina’s, Don Bugito, and Onigilly — is behind the effort, which Planning has already approved. But the incubator has hit a roadblock, and it’s a big one. With the city undergoing a massive construction boom, the price to renovate the building and construct kitchens and dining areas has skyrocketed. In May 2016, the project was estimated to cost $2 million, with both La Cocina and the city splitting the bill. But by December 2017, just a year-and-a-half later, that number doubled to $4 million. La Cocina believes it can raise $1 million more, but that still leaves the project is $1 million short of the funds needed to launch.
On Monday, neighborhood advocates gathered together to ask City Hall to help them secure the funding.
Caleb Zigas, La Cocina’s executive director, says the plan is to have seven businesses open in the place, all run by women and people of color.
“We’re 100-percent committed to seeing this project happen,” Zigas said. “This is an opportunity for the city to make an affirmative decision about the kind of businesses they want to see.
“We can promise it will be a delicious return on investment,” he added, as a nod to the fact that City Hall is just a short three blocks away from the site.
The commitment to raising $2 million total for this project is impressive for an organization whose mission is to aid low-income business owners with less than $5,000 in capital. But while the city has a whopping $10 billion budget each year, it’s still a lot to ask, and Mayor Mark Farrell isn’t being too generous lately.
Sup. Jane Kim, who recently fought hard for $2.5 million to clean city streets, earned enough support to get the motion passed by her colleagues on the Board in March — only to have it rejected when it reached Farrell’s desk. The same month, he also rejected Sup. London Breed’s request for money to help tenants facing eviction.
So as great an idea as this marketplace sounds, donating $2 million to making one singular project happen will not be an easy win.
But Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, says the city owes the neighborhood the money.
“I keep wondering when the city will invest in the Tenderloin,” he said at Monday’s press conference. “Trying to get money for housing we’re very good at, but trying to get money for economic development is like pulling teeth. We see millions of dollars being spread around the city, but when it comes to this … $1 million should just be an automatic gift. We’ve been underfunded for decades. This would close the reparations the Tenderloin is owed.”
Reparations aside, neighbors simply seem excited about the idea of having more food options in that corner of the city. UC Hastings Dean David Faigman showed up Monday to express his support of the project, as did Local 2, a union one block away, and La Vos Latina, an advocacy group for low-income Spanish-speaking residents in the neighborhood.
While the group cheered in support of one another outside 101 Hyde St. on Monday, it remains to be seen whether they will be listened to. La Cocina and Tenderloin Housing Clinic have made requests to meet with Mayor Mark Farrell, but have yet to hear back.
The project does, however, have Kim’s support.
“It would be a wonderful opportunity for our local small businesses for La Cocina to be able to execute their vision for this location,” she said. “The city will definitely stay involved and we have already been in discussions over the last few weeks in regards to cost overruns.”
In the meantime, a large, city-owned building just steps from City Hall sits vacant.