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Developer gains support for mid-Market makeover
San Francisco Business Times, May 2-8, 2003. By Ryan Tatesfbt

The developer of a warren of buildings behind San Francisco’s Old Mint wants to close off an alleyway there, Jessie Street, to create a mid-Market version of Union Square’s popular Maiden Lane.

The proposal comes as developer Patrick McNerney’s Martin Building Co. prepares to fill the second-to-last vacancy in a series of buildings it has renovated on Jessie and Mint Street, behind the Old Mint on Fifth Street between Market and Mission Streets.

Starting in 1998 and finishing last month, Martin rehabilitated the first three buildings, which were formerly vacant, and got them placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The three completed projects, which include 30 rental live/work lofts and 10,000 square feet of commercial offices, are fully leased, except for two restaurant spaces. Those are proving tougher to lease, McNerney said, owing to the glut of space that downtown’s restaurant downturn had put back onto the market.

So in the meantime, McNerney has taken matters into his own hands: this week he obtained permits to open a cocktail lounge in the larger of two adjoining restaurant slots, inside 410 Jessie. With rotating art exhibits, it is meant to complement the newly-opened dance club Mezzanine a few doors down at 444 Jessie, which McNerney opened with a partner early this month after a swanky, arty, renovation that includes poured, colored concrete and epoxy finish on the floors. By day, Mezzanine is an art gallery.

“One of the goals is to bring daytime and nighttime activity to the area, and it fits into the scheme of that.”

A fourth building, at 424 Jessie, will house eight stories of live/work condos when it opens in November.

McNerney is also pushing the city to sell him the old fire station that sits at 416-418 Jessie, between two of his other developments. The city budget calls for the sale of the station by June 30.

McNerney hopes that closing off Jessie Street will allow Martin to create a public plaza there, complete with a performing art infrastructure like a stage and folding plastic chairs designed to be moved around by visitors as they are at Bryant Square Park in New York.

The changes would be funded by Martin Building Co., which expects to have spent 30 million in total behind the mint, acquiring the rehabilitating buildings and improving the landscape.

Money for the plaza could also come in part from the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, which won preliminary approval in January to try and raise financing for the $46 million renovation of the 128-year-old landmark. Help could also come if the city moves forward with plans for a mid-Market Street redevelopment zone, which is expected to issue its final Environmental Impact Report this summer

The proposal has picked up support from San Francisco’s Supervisor Chris Daly’s office, which is in talks with the Department of Public Works and plans to submit the idea to the Board of Supervisors as early as June. Even before that, Daly’s office could modify the plans to close the alley to cars for part of the day, or for a day or two each week.

Carolyn Diamond, Executive Director of the Market Street Association, said closing off Jessie Street is consistent with long-term goals for the area established in the redevelopment plan. “It’s a great idea,” she said. “One of the goals is to bring daytime and nighttime activity to the area, and it fits into the scheme of that.”

In fact, McNerney hopes the area behind the mint could become as famous as the mint itself, or any other city landmark.

“We’d like to see this as a good adjunct to the Powell Street cable car turnaround,” he said. “There’s no reason this couldn’t be listed in tourist guidebooks.”

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