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San Francisco Flower Mart May be Planted Southside

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Proposals to relocate the 115,000 square foot San Francisco Flower Mart to 901 16th Street and 1200 17th Street, known as the “Corovan” site, or to Indiana Street between Cesar Chavez Street and Islais Creek, appear to be gaining traction, while efforts to repot the blossom businesses at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, in Bayview, have wilted.  Last month, the Potrero Boosters and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) signaled their support to host the wholesale floral outlet, currently located at Sixth and Brannan streets, in Dogpatch or the Hill.   

According to Gloria Chan, director of communications for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Kilroy Reality, which is developing the existing Flower Mart site, is in private negotiations with the owners of the Corovan and Indiana Street properties.  

“The City does not play any role in those private party negotiations,” said Chan. 

Chan added that Kilroy will have to complete a community outreach process and California Environmental Quality Act study to plant the Flower Mart at any new site. 

This month the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to pass an ordinance approving a development agreement for the current Flower Mart site. The parties to the arrangement are the Flower Mart, organized as a limited liability company, a representative subset of the 50 Mart vendors, and Kilroy Realty, the company that owns the property on which the Mart is situated and which is financially responsible for maintaining it. 

“The office project at the current Flower Mart site will generate $107 million in “jobs housing linkage fees” that the City will use to construct over 450 units of permanently affordable housing in the City,” said Chan.  

The Corovan site is presently slated to be developed into 25,000 square feet of retail space and 395 housing units, including 42 affordable homes. For years Walden Development has attempted to improve the property, first as Kaiser Permanente medical offices and then as a residential complex. Although the City approved a plan for housing and retail space in 2016, Hill residents initiated numerous legal challenges related to environmental reviews and City approvals, stalling the project. 

“I personally am sad to lose housing in that location, but the Flower Mart creates an interesting opportunity to provide activity and retail sales in that corner of the neighborhood,” said J.R. Eppler, Boosters president. “In addition, traffic for the Flower Mart would be less than for housing.”   

Eppler said Potrero Hill was doing “an extraordinary job of building housing in the City,” and that other parts of the community are being residentially developed. 

“We anticipate considerably fewer traffic impacts with the Flower Mart than what we would have gotten with the entitled project,” Alison Heath, a member of the Boosters and the neighborhood preservation organization Grow Potrero Responsibly, said.  According to Heath, the current Flower Mart site could be used to develop “hundreds of additional affordable units” South-of-Market.  

Art Agnos, a Hill resident who served as Mayor of San Francisco from 1988 to 1992, said he’s concerned about the potential housing loss at the Corovan site. When Kilroy first acquired Sixth and Brannan streets in 2016, Agnos helped Flower Mart vendors negotiate with the developer to provide funding to either relocate or stay on the property. 

“This sudden, surprise, last-minute move to permanently locate the Flower Mart at the Corovan site is an act of desperation driven by approaching deadlines for the City and the Flower Mart. As a strong supporter of the Flower Mart for the past four years, I am aware of its importance to our City…worked hard to save it from destruction at Fifth and Brannan by Kilroy Development,” said Agnos. 

Agnos, who served as regional head for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 2001, is worried that Walden’s residential complex won’t be constructed.  “After three years of frivolous legal opposition, the well-thought-out Walden development, which will offer 395 units of family-friendly housing, is now ready to break ground…to meet critical housing needs. That is our City’s highest priority. There are better alternatives in the southeast part of our City for the Flower Mart if everyone agrees to an extension of arbitrary deadlines,” said Agnos. 

According to Agnos, if the Flower Mart relocated to the Corovan site it’d have “a calamitous impact on the rapidly growing residential housing that surrounds it. Locating the Flower Mart, with eight to 10 large trailer trucks idling or parking daily at 2 or 3 in the morning, not to mention retail trucks and customer vehicles coming and going throughout the day, makes no sense. The large number of commercial and customer vehicles would only compound the traffic congestion coming off of the I-280 Mariposa exit that uses Mississippi to get to Seventh Street to head to Downtown. In short, it is a ready-made instant conflict with residents. That is why we worked so hard to stop the huge Kaiser Clinic…proposed for the same location at 901 16th Street.”  

Eppler countered that both the Corovan and Indiana Street sites are “likely far away enough” from residents that middle of the night deliveries to the Flower Mart wouldn’t create problems.  “Both locations should have all of their parking for wholesale buyers and individual customers contained on-site. The biggest traffic concern for the Corovan site would be during morning commute hours, when florists will be picking up flowers for wholesale delivery,” said Eppler.

Kilroy is prepared to address issues regarding traffic, said Alex Clemens, a Kilroy spokesperson who is a founder and managing partner of Lighthouse Public Affairs, LLC, a San Francisco-based public relations firm.

“Any concerns that would be raised by neighborhood advocates would be completely and thoroughly vetted by an entitlement process down the road,” said Clemens. 

“The site on Cesar Chavez Street is more remote,” said Katherine Doumani, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president. “I think it could use some action and some activity. But since it is farther away than the Corovan site, it sounds like it’s not checking all their boxes.” 

Doumani said Dogpatch residents would be excited to have the Flower Mart on the Southside. “It would create continuity. It’s the perfect fit to the freeway and the types of buildings we have. PDR has been here for years. We lost two warehouses that were torn down to build UCSF student housing,” said Doumani.

Doumani added that the Flower Mart would be a nice amenity for Dogpatch residents, “one of those “get up in the morning, go get flowers” rituals we’ve all had.”

Merchants haven’t objected to relocating the Mart to the Hill but are unenthusiastic about the possibility. 

“We would be more favorably inclined to development of the Corovan site if they could put some retail in that spot. We’re unhappy to lose the 25,000 square feet of retail space,” said Keith Goldstein, Potrero-Dogpatch Merchants Association president. “I think that neighborhood groups were misguided in holding up the Corovan project. It had many units of family housing and millions of dollars in public benefits.” 

Chan said OEWD wants the Flower Mart to remain in the City.  

“The Flower Mart (has been) an important legacy institution to San Francisco for over the past 150 years. Most of the vendors are independently owned small businesses who are vital to the character, diversity, and vibrancy of this City. As one of only a handful of wholesale flower markets left in the country and the largest on the West Coast, we are committed to ensuring the Flower Mart continues to stay and grow, and flourish, right here in San Francisco,” said Chan. 

Chan added that the Flower Mart has approximately 350 employees working in the Production, Distribution and Repair sector. 

“The City is hopeful (these jobs) will…remain in San Francisco for decades to come. PDR jobs play an important role in the diversity of the City’s economy,” said Chan. 

The Flower Mart is considering two primary relocation options. It could move to a temporary off-site facility under an existing lease with Kilroy as the Sixth and Brannan streets development is built and return after construction is completed. Or it could shift to a permanent off-site PDR property that Kilroy would acquire and tailor for the Mart’s use.

According to Chan, Kilroy is obligated to move the Mart to a permanent facility “under the terms of a pre-negotiated long-term, below-market rate lease before they can begin construction on their primary central SoMa site.” 

Louise Renne, attorney for the Flower Mart vendors, said that the sellers prefer to relocate once to a permanent site.  “The idea of a temporary location is just not feasible. We want to only spend the money once. We’re talking big expenses for items such as all of the refrigeration,” said Renne. 

Renne added that the vendors want a decision as soon as possible, as relocation affects “all of the other businesses and industries that depend on them, including hotels and restaurants.” 

For much of last year the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, in Bayview, appeared to be the Flower Mart’s preferred permanent relocation site.  The facility, which hosts multiple produce vendors who rely on refrigerated warehouses with easy access to truck loading docks, seemed to be a good fit for the Flower Mart, and match with San Francisco’s land use patterns.

However, the Produce Mart occupies parcels owned by the City.  According to sources who prefer not to be named, Kilroy appears to prefer siting the Flower Mart on property it controls, which could provide the developer with greater financial upside once its lease with the florists expires. These same sources believe that municipal attention to relocating the Flower Mart has followed a similar pattern as most Southside development, with little leadership exhibited.  Instead, government officials appear to be mostly concerned about clearing a path for the gigantic Sixth and Brannan streets development, with its cascading economic and fiscal benefits.

Kilroy plans to construct an 1.4 million square foot retail center at Sixth and Brannan streets. However, the amount of new commercial space that can be built in San Francisco is restricted by the Office Development Annual Limit Program, also known as Proposition M. In exchange for relocating the Mart the City has provided priority to Kilroy for an additional approximately 350,000 square feet allocation in 2021.  

Last month, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Flower Mart’s development agreement on first reading, with a few draft amendments. These include correction of a typographical error in the ordinance, establishing a design review dispute resolution process to guide the build-out of the new Flower Mart facility, and inclusion of a requirement that Kilroy make an annual $200,000 payment for street cleaning in central SoMa over 10 years. District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin encouraged the three development agreement parties to finalize the amendments as soon as possible. 

Jessica Zimmer contributed substantially to this article.

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