They told Jeannie Kim she was crazy. Why would anyone want to buy a diner on Market Street? And on Central Market no less – the sketchiest stretch of San Francisco’s once celebrated artery?
But Kim didn’t listen. She had a feeling things would change. Even when they didn't.
At first things were dodgy. There was crime, drugs – the usual trappings of a forgotten area.
But then Twitter moved in. Just across the street. In the two years since then, business at Sam’s Diner has been booming.
“It’s been great,” said Kim, standing in front of the restaurant she bought in 2006. “There’s definitely been a change of customer base. The demographics have changed.”
The demographics all along Market Street between 5th and Van Ness have gotten a tech infusion as of late. Since San Francisco city leaders lured Twitter to the area with a payroll tax break in 2011, the street has begun to find its footing for the first time in decades.
Following Twitter's relocation, 17 companies have found their way to Central Market, including Square, Yammer and Zendesk. Soon Dolby and Spotify will also boast Market Street addresses, as well as American Conservatory Theater’s new Strand Theater space, which recently broke ground.
“We’re seeing the beginning of a renaissance,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said. “People want to be here.”
On Monday, Lee led journalists on a tour of Central Market, pausing in front of businesses newly moved in, or under construction. He pointed out that office vacancy rates in the area have fallen to 8.5 percent, a 60 percent drop since 2011.
“We are now seeing 5,500 housing units being built,” Lee said, strolling the street with a couple dozen people in tow.
With an “I told you so” grin, he cited a recent analysis by the San Francisco Controller's Office that showed the controversial payroll tax break the city offered companies to move in to Market Street would result in $54 million in additional tax revenues for the city over 20 years.
With Twitter expected to make its initial public stock offering this week, a move analysts say could value the company at more than $13 billion, Lee expressed hope the financial boom would trickle down to the city.
“Simply, it means more jobs, investor confidence,” said Lee.
Still, the city’s recent run of high-tech prosperity has left many grousing about the future of San Francisco – the run of Ellis Act evictions and soaring rents driving middle-class families out of the city.
“How much of that money is going to food banks? How much of that money is going toward affordable housing?” asked Jeramie Aiken as he watched Lee and his entourage walk past. “How much of that money is actually taking a homeless person off the street and giving him the health care he needs?”
Lee said 1,474 of the new units under construction on Market Street will be listed as below market rate.
“We’ll protect the cultures of every neighborhood that we can,” said Lee. “[And] still encourage investments in the neighborhood in a balanced way.”
Despite the rush of businesses clamoring to Market Street, business owners emphasize crime and safety are still concerns in the area.
“It’s been a challenge to see how we can make this area more safe,” Kim said.
Inside Huckleberry Bicycles, co-owner Zack Stender shook hands with the mayor, praising the newly cleaned streets and the hordes of neighboring tech workers coming in to buy bicycles. Like Kim, Stender recently expanded the space of his store.
“I think that’s going to happen,” Stender said of the area's transition. “This will become the grand boulevard that is and is supposed to be and has been in the past.”