The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution yesterday aimed at solving a problem facing Bay Area floral industry business owners, community members, development companies and elected leaders: Where to temporarily relocate the country’s second largest flower market as its permanent home in one of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets is redeveloped?
Kilroy Realty Corp. purchased the San Francisco Flower Mart in 2014. The company plans to build 2.5 million square feet of office space on the current market site, at 640 Brannan Street, with a new wholesale flower market on the ground level. As part of the original sales agreement, Kilroy must move the Flower Mart to a temporary location within San Francisco while they build out Sixth and Brannan, a process that could take three to five years. The San Francisco Flower Mart Tenants’ Association gave pre-approval to one site in that agreement: 2000 Marin Street, an industrial area of the city close to highway access and San Francisco’s wholesale produce market.
The catch: That site is currently owned by Tishman Speyer, another commercial real estate company that is developing a project near Kilroy’s Flower Mart project. This situation has led Kilroy to suggest a back-up location, Piers 19, 19 ½ and 23 along San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a tourist-heavy neighborhood that the Tenants’ Association says is a bad fit.
Yesterday’s resolution, introduced by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, urges the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to trade a piece of city-owned property for the Marin Street property, which could make the property available to the market. The vote comes after the launch of savetheflowermarket.com, a grassroots effort by Flower Mart florists and customers to convince lawmakers that a site along that stretch of the Embarcadero would be disastrous for the vendors of the Flower Mart.
“This can all feel a bit like a game of chess — there are a lot of moving pieces,” said Claire Marie Johnston of Flowers Claire Marie and one of the organizers behind the Save the Flower Market campaign. At press time, the group’s petition at Change.org had attracted more than 76,760 signatures. Johnston delivered bouquets to local lawmakers as part of the campaign.
In a letter to supporters and community members, Johnston laid out some of the challenges associated with the Embarcadero site. Among other things, she said, it “does not have adequate parking for large trucks bringing product to the market, nor for the customers shopping and parking their trucks, vans and cars at the market. Additionally, early morning rush hour traffic along the Embarcadero would be greatly enhanced, due to the positioning of the proposed Flower Market. This creates potentially disastrous safety concerns for the citizens of San Francisco.”
The over-arching fear for floral industry members? The wrong site could drive some longtime tenants out of business, long before their revitalized permanent home on Brannan Street is ready to be reoccupied.
Mike Grisso, a senior vice president at Kilroy, classified some of the information presented through the online petition as “inaccurate” and said the company has conducted traffic studies that indicate the Embarcadero is a viable option in a metro area where available space is hard to come by.
“The city is working with us to make 2000 Marin available,” he said. “If it is available, we will absolutely make that the site, but we can’t guarantee that it’s going to be available. The industrial market in San Francisco is the tightest it’s ever been. There are no other sites [beyond the piers] that can accommodate this scale.”
He also dismissed claims that the company isn’t truly invested in the health of the Flower Mart businesses.
“Our goal is to have all the businesses [succeed and] come back once the new market is built,” he said.
Industrial space is increasingly difficult to find in San Francisco, as tech start-ups and large companies take up more and more real estate. City laws, such as Proposition M, which was passed in the 1980s, also limit growth, and the region is routinely listed as one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets. (Read more about some of the city’s development and redevelopment plans.)
Geoff Spellberg, attorney for The San Francisco Flower Mart Tenants’ Association, said the piers are not an option for the Flower Mart.
“The piers are not going to be a successful location for the wholesalers or our florist customers,” he said. “The layout won’t work. It’s a fairly significant reduction in square footage and access points. Everybody would suffer. We’re not going to the piers.”
Sharla Flock of Sharla Flock Designs, another organizer behind Save the Flower Market, characterized the situation as a “big money against the small guy” story.
“As florists, we were never included in any of the dialogue surrounding the future of the flower market and yet, we are the very people who should have a voice,” said Flock. “Where the market lives affects us greatly. We will continue to fight to save the future of our market because it’s not only the right thing to do, but for me, the only option.”
Barbara Schnur of SF Brannan Street Wholesale said the realities of the Flower Mart —trucks coming in and out daily to transport flowers to faraway destinations — will not work with the Embarcadero, which is filled with tourists on vacation. That worries her: The Flower Mart is an icon, she said, but it’s also a group of businesses.
“I think sometimes the reality of the market gets lost — it’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s silly, but it’s also real businesses feeding people’s families, “ she said.
Other floral industry members are less sure. Charlie Cheng, a 30-year tenant in the Flower Mart, said that while most tenants seem to prefer the Marin site, “I think the visibility the piers give us will serve us in the future. There are pros and cons to both sites that will need to be looked into with more detail and I’m sure new issues will arise…I agree a site with less pedestrian traffic [than the Embarcadero] would better suit our needs but my main concern is making sure we all stay together.”