Understanding Market Street, by Will Thacher

On September 12, 2011, the ARC will be hosting a retreat and working session to discuss sustaining the arts in the Central Market district in San Francisco. Participants have been invited to submit guest posts to this blog to promote discussion.
Will Thacher is President & CEO of Market & Turk Company.
Market Street was once a glamorous destination for the western world, boasting of such landmarks as the Palace Hotel, the most expensive and luxurious hotel of its time, the Chronicle building’s clock, the largest ever built, the Call building- one of the tallest in the world, and City Hall, a splendid monument to the city.  People came to Market Street for shopping, entertainment and business. Laid out circa 1847 by Jasper O’Farrell, it runs 3 miles from the Ferry Building to Twin Peaks and has been compared to  Fifth Avenue, the Champs-Élysées, or the Great White Way.
Despite suffering a devastating blow with the 1906 earthquake and fire, Market Street emerged  as grand as ever with new buildings, businesses and entertainment theatres. Market Street has had a long history of arts and entertainment venues with dozens over time, mostly concentrated in Central Market. Starting with vaudeville and continuing with Cinerama cinema, movie houses and live performance stages, Central Market Street was active with thousands of people and a vibrant night life.
In the late 50’s and 60’s, however, Central Market Street started a steep decline, due to many factors which included the decline in attendance to the many large and glamorous theatres, removal of marquees, and BART construction. Central Market Street was left with boarded up theaters and buildings and marginal businesses and liquor stores. Blight set in with large concentrations of the homeless, drug dealers, prostitutes and societal castaways.
There have been many attempts to redevelop/revitalize Central Market, but to no avail. The city has tried, private enterprise has tried but the herculean task to get to the “Tipping Point” has been elusive.  Yet, at this moment in time, we may be closer than ever to igniting the spark that gets us to that point. Even though it is a time of deep economic recession, with the city having limited resources and the State withdrawing Redevelopment funds, Central Market is fighting the head winds and progressing one organization at a time. It is the unique collaboration of government, community and business lifting together that has given rise to the current success.
As market rents rise and vacancies decline in SOMA, arts organizations and tech companies look to Central Market for their new home. One by one they are congregating together on Market Street for synergy in mind set, supporters and patrons. The challenge is to choreograph the revitalization in such a way that the resulting mosaic of businesses, organizations, retail, and residential all support each other without over gentrification.  The Arts and Entertainment are vital to the successful rebuilding of the area. Both large and small arts organizations are needed to bring vibrancy and diversity to the area.  The arts attract and engage the community at large in many ways that complements other commercial and residential activities. Art must be incorporated into the area, from open space insulations to large theatre, from fringe to main stream. Artist and art organizations must engage with the building owners and the city to facilitate long term leases, co-ops and multi-million dollar developments.
Reduce crime 
  •  City to reallocate police resources to Central Market Street
  • Increase Mobile units and officers
  • Community involvement- businesses, owners and residences create watch groups
  • Discourage the opportunities and existence of undesirable and incompatible businesses and activities- liquor stores, pornographic , drug and prostitute related activities 
Reduce vacant and boarded up buildings
  • Enforce and enhance legislation to penalize building owners for boarded up buildings that are not actively trying to be leased.
  • Introduce legislation that  incentivizes building owners to lease up building with extra incentives for long term and below market rent leases to the arts (ie tax exemptions)
  • Create committees/organization to assist(resources, money, knowledge and contacts) popup businesses and temporary art installations(static and dynamic) in vacant spaces
Develop long term influence and presence of the arts
  • Find large art benefactors and art organizations to develop, fund and sponsor large scale projects in Central Market Street (ie.TEDP).
  • Develop  affordable housing for the arts
  • Student, teacher, staff and actor housing for short and long term stay at affordable rates
Develop a traffic(auto, bike, foot, public) and parking strategy that supports all activities on Central Market
  • Late night theatre
  • Art/entertainment
  • Commuter
  • Retail
  • Office business
  • Restaurant
Support and maintenance for common areas (common mission statement and policies)
  • Community Benefit Districts(CBD) having consistent and united goals that work together with each other, police, government,  merchants, vendors, members and the community of Market  Street

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