Builder plans Euro-style plaza next to Old Mint
San Francisco Business Times, May 12-18, 2006. By J.K Dineensfbt

The Martin Building Co. is ramping up plans to convert a Mid-Market Street alley into a lush, European-style piazza and is proposing a special tax district to pay for the $1.5 million project.

Called Mint Plaza, the proposal is for a 200-foot long public pedestrian-only plaza on Jessie Street, between Mint and Fifth streets, and adjacent to the Old Mint, a city landmark being converted into a San Francisco History Museum.

The plaza would be ringed on one side by the Old Mint and on the other by four historic mixed-use properties the MBC owns: 410 Jessie St., 418 Jessie St., 424 Jessie St. and 54 Mint St. The three Jessie Street buildings are all historic warehouses being converted into condominiums, and they will eventually house 89 condos, about 40 of which are already complete. Three of the buildings will have ground-floor restaurants opening out onto the plaza, including 54 Mint St., which is a 14,000-square-foot office building.

Michael Yarne, director of development at the Martin Building Co., said the plaza would be “simple, well-designed, flexible, using high-quality materials, and green” with a “rain-garden” fed by harvested water. He said the details of the design would be determined though a series of community meetings, the first of which is scheduled for May 16.

By leasing the ground floor of three of the buildings to restaurants and art galleries, and programming regular art exhibits and live music in the plaza itself, MBC is hoping the lively mix will make the alley less attractive for drug dealers conducting business there. “The more activity on the plaza, the fewer the opportunities there are for drug-related crime and anti-social behavior,” he said. “This is going to be a true urban plaza, hopefully active from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.”

The MBC would finance the project using tax exempt bonds. While generally used by suburban developers, the Mello-Roos tax districts are increasingly being used to pay for infrastructure improvements around urban infill developments. Mello-Roos payments are collected with property taxes and go toward paying off the bonds’ lien on the property.

The plaza plan is already attracting the interests. One establishment, The Bar of Contemporary Art, opened a month ago at 414 Jessie St. Monika Bernstein, the co-owner of BOCA, called the plaza concept a “driving force” in convincing her to sign a lease.

“We’re hoping for a lot of foot traffic, more of a European-style outdoor café setting,” she said.

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