October 26, 2011

The New Plans And Latest Recommendations For Japantown

With the grand plans for a complete redevelopment of San Francisco’s Japan Center Mall and Peace Plaza waylaid by the economy back in 2008, a Japantown Organizing Committee has been exploring the possibility of forming a Community Land Trust (CLT) to acquire the property from 3D Investments and team with a development partner to renovate the mall, making it "more user-friendly, landscaped with plantings characteristic of Japanese gardens and [incorporating] Japanese style lighting and signage."

Assuming 3D would be willing to sell for $22,500,000 having paid $19,700,000 for the parcels in 2006, and assuming the ability to secure financing, the CLT would likely need to attract philanthropic funding/grants of between $5.1 million to $7.1 million, and raise average exisiting rents by up to 50 percent, in order to make the project "pencil."

On Thursday, Planning is scheduled to present the latest recommendations for moving forward with the redevelopment of Japantown to the Planning Commission, the plan for which plugged-in people can get a sneak peek (click any of the images to enlarge).

The 4 Design Concepts For The Future Of San Francisco’s Japantown [SocketSite]
Japantown’s Better Neighborhood Plan Update: Draft Acknowledged [SocketSite]
Japantown Community Planning Process and Initial Recommendations [sfplanning.org]

First Published: October 26, 2011 9:00 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

"Raise average existing rents by 50%"?!? Is that actually written into the business plan of the proposed CLT package? That would seem to be a easy way to alienate every party to this idea. The mall very much needs a major overhaul, but it would also need the buy-in of the merchants to succeed. The mall's current charms (obviously) come from the collection of similarly-themed niche businesses, not finding ways to attract a bunch of Walgreens and Panda Express outlets. I'm sure that shops like the SF Taiko Dojo would readily decamp under those circumstances.

Posted by: Average Joe at October 26, 2011 9:55 AM

density please

Posted by: density please at October 26, 2011 9:57 AM

I think the only way to make this pencil out would be to wait until condo sales pick up again, and then rebuild the complex with condo towers on top.

Posted by: Dan at October 26, 2011 10:18 AM

Agree with Average Joe

And watch this come to pass. They will push out what remains of the Japanese (or Koreans pretending to be Japanese) and Japanese American about the location if they raise the rents but it seems the only way to really preserve marginal businesses is to keep the mall cheap

A condundrum.

I have been going to J town since I was a kid and would hate to see it runied personally

Posted by: Zig at October 26, 2011 10:35 AM

Would like to see more housing opportunities (yes, density/height) -- so that this becomes a viable residential enclave as well as an interesting tourist area. There's ample opportunity for careful growth, all within design guidelines which respect the history of this location. Amazing crossroads location. Fill in that weird Geary tunnel (we hate pedestrian bridges), weave back our 'hoods, and add layers of housing on the JTown buildings.

Include the surrounding & isolated gated government housing should not be standing alone as anomalies but could in time be pulled into the overall Japantown theme (why not?)

Posted by: Invented at October 26, 2011 11:36 AM

The "pedestrian bridge" over Geary -- i.e. the surface continuation of Fillmore over Geary -- is the only car/pedestrian solution in that area that WORKS. Crossing Geary at Fillmore (walking over it) is a lot better than crossing eight lanes of traffic.

What would be an improvement is widening the Fillmore bridge and putting small retail along the sidewalk instead of "Blue", the much-damaged public art/bus stop. There's plenty of height over Geary -- probably enough to give the storefronts a good 30-foot depth. Granted, it wouldn't be the Ponte Vecchio, but it would be better than a freeway overpass.

On the other hand, there is no reason for the pedestrian bridge at Webster. They've already put surface crosswalks at Steiner, where there's a similar bridge. There's plenty of time to cross with a walk sign and that's true at Webster, too.

Posted by: BobN at October 26, 2011 11:46 AM

A solution in search of a problem. Is Ed Lee's campaign really in this much trouble?

Posted by: EH at October 26, 2011 11:46 AM

@Bobn: I totally agree that the Filmore/Geary Bridge is an asset that should be kept and even expanded. As for the pedestrian bridge at Webster, it is less vital but still serves a function and is actually far more attractive than most such bridges.

Posted by: NoeNeighbor at October 26, 2011 12:07 PM

I like J-town in all it's 70's glory. If it aint broke don't fix it.

Posted by: Snark17 at October 26, 2011 12:45 PM

It's pretty sad to see the current state of the Japantown malls. Clearly no money has been spent to maintain it over the last decade.

Posted by: anon at October 26, 2011 1:30 PM

I live in the neighborhood, and much prefer the Geary underpass of Fillmore Street versus six lanes of idling traffic waiting for stop signals.
The suggestion of store build-outs on the overpass is good; however, I can't see the City being able to afford it anytime soon.
Yes, the "Blue" glass artwork has looked ratty and dirty for years.

Posted by: Jackson at October 26, 2011 1:56 PM

As this proposal with its 50% rent increases shows (and that's the optimistic number, folks), please don't do the Japantown mall these kind of favors. The current mall has value for its current tenants and immersive experience--you can bring out-of-towners here and they'll like it, because they'll see something they don't have at home. Gentrifying the mall will result in another mcmall, with anchor tenants (walgreens, target, etc.), and a few token japanese restaurants. Leave well enough alone.

Yes, I realize the majority of the commenters here have incomes derived from development so everything must be rebuilt, higher and denser and more expensive, but let's not blandify everything, okay?

Posted by: Delancey at October 26, 2011 3:49 PM

Totally agree with Delancey, and yes my income is derived from development

Posted by: guest at October 26, 2011 3:59 PM

Delancey's statements are spot on.
Raising the rents of long time tenants by 50 percent will cause many to close.
The only improvements I see useful in the Redevelopment Plan are adding steps to the Peace Plaza from Geary Street, planting more trees, and adding outside cafe seating in the plaza. Japan Town suffers from a lack of maintenance.
All three water features haven't worked in years and the all the buildings need painting and a good cleaning.
Not keeping up with maintenance of public spaces is a problem for San Francisco, and not cost effective if the only response is to tear down and rebuild.
I see this problem City-wide whether it be our Parks, Streets, or Schools.

Posted by: Jackson at October 26, 2011 4:25 PM

Drop a economic bomb on existing businesses in Japantown. Don't worry, we will plant cherry blossom trees. Peace.

Posted by: kathleen at October 26, 2011 5:35 PM

I actually agree that the site should be left as is- it is quite charming in its current incarnation and what we need LESS of in this city are Big Fun Developments INC.

Posted by: density please at October 26, 2011 10:20 PM

I don't know... I think that Japantown definitely needs some time invested into it... but it would be nice to see the considerations of the people who own, work, shop and live around there have a voice in the next iteration.

Windows are a huge win... taking better advantage of the outdoor space also a huge win.

Posted by: Rob at October 27, 2011 11:12 AM

For all the complaints about the physical condition of the mall, it's still one of the few commercial areas that's quite busy most of the time.

Posted by: BobN at October 27, 2011 12:47 PM

If our City was a perfect world, store windows could exist without being etched by vandals.
Walk down Divisadero or Fillmore streets and notice the defaced glass.
By leaving the store windows facing the interior Mall, security is improved.
Adding trees and outdoor seating and cafes to the Peace Plaza is a small expense compared to what is being proposed.

Posted by: Jackson at October 27, 2011 1:17 PM

If the Geary BRT goes in, it's likely that the "locally preferred option" will include filling in Geary and getting rid of the pedestrian bridge. Hopefully the two projects will complement each other - and access to Japantown on Geary will be more pleasant and attractive.

Posted by: kthnxybe at October 27, 2011 3:56 PM


I understand what you're saying, but regardless of vandalism or not... outward facing windows will greatly improve the aesthetic and attract more business... I should only hope that the decision of outward facing windows being apart of the redesign doesn't lay in the hands of a few pricks with markers.

Also, trees are great.

The rest of it will just be supplemental... again... let the people who already have an investment in the property/neighborhood weigh in on what would make it better.

Posted by: Rob at October 27, 2011 11:31 PM

Yes please! Anything is better than the current sad state of Japantown.

Posted by: Dom at October 25, 2013 1:01 PM

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