From the white modernist flatiron building at 950 Market St. — with its 242 condominiums and 236-room Lines Hotel — to the 500-unit Trinity Place building at 1177 Market St., which will also have a 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods, this has been a marquee year for development in Mid-Market.
In recent months the neighborhood has seen the opening of the 303-unit 50 Jones and, a block to the south, the 550-apartment building at 1550 Mission St. Coming soon are 418 units at 30 Otis, 109 condos at 1554 Market St. and 193 units at 1028 Market St. A total of 2,315 new housing units have either opened recently or will soon premiere in the Mid-Market neighborhood.
But while adding housing to the mix of hotels, shops and stores on the city’s main drag has been a goal of planners for decades, the new influx comes during a period when Mid-Market has been hammered by pandemic-fueled business closures, drug dealing and headline-grabbing crime.
Retailers have moved or gone out of business. Huckleberry Bicycles, held up as a symbol of the Market Street renaissance when it opened in 2011, finally gave up and moved to Levi’s Plaza on the city’s northern waterfront. World of Stereo, which supplied turntables and speakers to DJs from around the Bay Area, moved deeper into the South of Market, to Sixth and Brannan.
Other businesses vanished, including the diner Homeskillet, Popsons Burgers, Equator Coffee, a CVS drugstore and an array of restaurants — including two Indian spots, a Middle Eastern place and several upscale bistros.
Before the pandemic Market on Market, the grocery store and food hall in the Twitter headquarters building at 1355 Market St., had 18 vendors. That number has dwindled to three, and revenues has fallen from $65,000 to $15,000 a day, according to owner Chris Foley. In addition to the drop in business, it’s been dispiriting to grapple with the steady stream of shoplifters and addicts who steal groceries and use the restroom to shoot up drugs or sleep, he said.
“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” Foley said. “We have customers who live around the corner (at 55 Ninth St.) who say, ‘We love you, but we use Instacart because we are afraid to cross the street.’”
Still, Foley said that he plans to “repopulate” the whole hall in anticipation of the post-pandemic world. Mensho Ramen is opening this fall, and Foley said he is in talks with other food vendors.
“You can’t quit,” he said. “This year has been about survival — we are betting on 2022 for recovery and 2023 for becoming profitable.”
Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Mid-Market area, said that the addition of residents “will reinvigorate our most important thoroughfare.” He said the street was already in rough shape before the pandemic, but the absence of tourists and office workers has been especially challenging for the street.
“Market Street is far too sleepy— it should be alive with people and businesses and open storefronts,” he said. “We were overly dependent on big offices before the pandemic, and the problem with that is that it leaves the area desolate on evenings and weekends. We need more balanced development, which the housing will provide.”
For Market on Market and other retailers, the addition of thousands of new residents will be positive, but future success will be at least be somewhat dependent on the return of office workers and tourists.
Central Market Street has some of the highest office vacancy rates in the city, according to real estate investment firm CBRE. The South of Market West subdistrict— which includes buildings that are home to Twitter, Dolby, Square and Uber — has an 28% vacancy rate and 1 million square feet of vacant space. Civic Center, which takes in office buildings on the north side of Market Street, has a vacancy rate of 16.5%, about 300,000 square feet of vacancy.
Several tenants are attempting to sublease unwanted space. Uber is looking for a subtenant to take 325,000 square feet at 1455 Market St., while Twitter is hoping to shed 105,000 square feet at 1 10th St., and Thumbtack has 79,000 square feet it is looking to unload at 1355 Market St., according to CBRE Research Director Colin Yasukochi.
Whether or not the majority of office workers return to in-person work is still up in the air. Twitter, Mid-Market’s biggest private employer, closed its office on March 11, 2020. The company, headquartered at 1355 Market St. since 2012, remained shuttered until July 12 of this year, when it made a short-lived attempt to bring people back to the office. It was open only a couple of weeks, closing again as the delta variant surged.
During those weeks, Ned Segal, the company’s chief financial officer, returned to the headquarters for the first time since the start of the pandemic and noticed the neighborhood had deteriorated significantly with workers at home and businesses shut.
“It was sad to see even more examples of homelessness and the mental health and substance abuse challenges that our city has faced than we saw before,” said Segal, a city native who’s raising three kids in San Francisco.
Segal said he isn’t sure when Twitter will reopen its offices — and it’s already decided employees can remain remote workers permanently if they want to. Nevertheless, he said the company remains committed to Mid-Market and will continue to operate its NeighborNest, a space on the street that provides local residents with technology access, coding workshops for kids, digital literacy courses and other aid.
In May Mayor London Breed announced a “Mid-Market Vibrancy and Safety Plan,” designed to address “illegal activity” and make the area “more welcoming, friendly and accessible.” The program, financed for two years with $8.8 million in city funds and $3 million in state money, pays for community ambassadors from the nonprofit Urban Alchemy to fan out across the neighborhood.
Reviews have been mixed so far. Bryan Bashin, CEO of Lighthouse for the Blind at 1177 Market St., said the street ambassadors have dramatically improved his block — in particular the area behind 1155 Market, where Uber and Lyft have a pickup spot, which he said “used to be a scene like the black hole of Calcutta.”
Trinity Properties CEO Walter Schmidt said the conditions around Eighth and Market are “measurably better” since the program started. “Our residents feel safer, our team members feel safer,” he said.
Jeannie Kim, who owns Sam’s American Eatery at 1220 Market St., said her block has continued to deteriorate and that she spends 25% of her time dealing with crime and vandalism.
“There are tons of drug dealers on every corner. There are 30 or 40 people hanging out behind the old Burger King building. They are shooting up and defecating in broad daylight,” she said. “It’s been crazy, and it’s getting worse, not better.”
Still, Kim said she is committed to staying open for her customers, who include cast and crew from the Orpheum next door. The reopening of the theater with “Hamilton” this summer was good for business, and she is looking forward to the opening of “My Fair Lady” in early November.
Across the street from the Orpheum at Trinity Place, where the city’s largest Whole Foods will open in March, there’s evidence that workers are returning to the neighborhood in anticipation of at least some in-person work.
Units at the new 500-unit building at 1177 Market St., the fourth and final phase of a 1,900-unit Trinity Place complex, are leasing rapidly, Schmidt said. Occupancy in the first three phases of the project — roughly 1,400 units — plummeted in the early days of COVID, dropping from about 96% to 70%. Most of those vacated units have now been rented — occupancy is back at 95.6% — although rents are still about 20% lower than they were before COVID.
The new building has signed about 80 leases since it opened in July. One of the first residents to move in was Kelsey Duff, 26, who left the city to spend the first year of the pandemic with her family in Massachusetts. Then in July, Duff, who is in sales, signed a lease at 1177 Market St. for $2,600 a month, a unit that would probably have gone for over $3,000 pre-COVID.
Duff said she was attracted to the fact that the building offers ample common spaces — decks and terraces, co-working spaces and a library — so she can have a variety of options when working from home.
“I love the Orpheum Theatre. I love the (Heart of the City) Farmers’ Market. I walk to Civic Center and go for a run every day,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting to see this part of the city come alive again.”
Other longtime city dwellers, such as San Francisco librarian Daniel Matsumoto, have taken advantage of the pandemic-fueled downturn to buy a piece of Mid-Market. Matsumoto, who had been living near Civic Center, was taking a walk down Market Street a few months ago when he noticed Serif, the new white flatiron condo building at 950 Market, which has sold about 45 units so far.
The modernist aesthetic appealed to him, as did the building’s location next to the Warfield Theatre, across from Blick art supply store and close to an array of arts and entertainment venues including PianoFight and Golden Gate Theatre. When he found out that he could buy a condo there for $500,000, he grabbed it.
“I’m just a middle-class public librarian — I’ve been a renter in the city for 20 years,” he said. “I’ve been through rent hikes and noisy neighbors in old buildings with thin walls. I feel like I’ve paid my dues. Homeownership has been a dream of mine for a long time.”
Matsumoto said he has no doubt that Mid-Market will come back to life post-pandemic. “Things are cyclical,” he said. “People come and go. But San Francisco always bounces back.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Heather Knight contributed to this report.
J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen