Auto Shop Turns Into Condos, but Another Eatery?

3135 24th Street, near the corner of Folsom Street, approaches completion but has an uncertain future. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

3135 24th Street, near the corner of Folsom Street, approaches completion but has an uncertain future. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

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A building project at 3135 24th Street to convert a former auto repair shop into a mixed-use development is set to finish construction in a month and already there is a disagreement about how the retail space should be used.

The project the San Francisco Planning Department approved four years ago envisioned nine units and a collectively-run ground-floor commercial space. The project had a decidedly community feel to it, in part because of its legacy. The former owner Nicolai Porshnikof had been in the neighborhood for 20 years and when he died in 2004, he left it to Vladimir Abramov, a friend down the block who owned La Parrilla Grill.

The proposal Abramov submitted to the Planning Commission in 2009 said the 1,675 square-foot ground- floor commercial space would “be used as a retail collective, encouraging small businesses to establish a retail presence and expand their businesses through flexible leases and low overhead costs.”

“It was supposed to be a kind of incubator-type space for smaller businesses, and local retail,” said President of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association Erick Arguello, who worked with the original developers on the project. “A kind of a marketplace for small operators. That’s why it was approved by the community.”

But that was four years ago and since then, new owners with new ideas have taken over. The building went into foreclosure in 2010, and two years later, a group of investors named Knickerbocker SF LLC purchased the building for $2.9 million, according to information found in the property’s deed and confirmed by James Nunemacher, a Knickerbocker investor and co-founder of Vanguard Properties. The latter is representing the sale of the building.

Nunemacher described Knickerbocker as “a handful of San Francisco people.” The group now plans to sell the building’s nine condominiums as well as the commercial, ground-floor space, according to Nunemacher.

The nine one to three-bedroom apartments, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, will be sold at market rate, Nunemacher said.

Arguello, on behalf of the lower 24th Street merchants, is concerned about the use of the commercial space. “We don’t want more restaurants,” said Arguello, adding that the number of restaurants is over the percentage that is a healthy mix for 24th Street.

“I just hope they respect intent of project—a space for small businesses is supposed to be a part of it.” That, he added, is what the community supported at the time the city planners approved the project.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project at a 2009 conditional-use hearing, in part, because of little opposition from the community.

At the time, the community was told that the space would be run by something called the Mission Independent Retail Collective, an organization featuring local merchants.

Arguello said that he feared if a new restaurant moved in it would only be open at night, thereby failing to add to the street’s daytime foot traffic. Moreover, he said, another high-end restaurant could drive up rents without serving many long-term residents.

“We’re going to put in a Starbucks,” said Nunemacher, who made it very clear that he was joking. “Sorry, I just had to say that.”

Nunemacher did acknowledge having conversations with some restaurant owners about the potential use of the space.

“We’ve talked to a lot of people who may be interested in the space, some restaurants and longtime business owners in the Mission,” said Nunemacher, who believes that the ground-floor space is zoned for general commercial use, meaning a restaurant or retail business could move in.

Arguello said that if a restaurant plans on moving into the space, there would have to be a conditional-use hearing. However, Julian Beñales of the Planning Department said that only a restaurant serving alcohol would require a public hearing.

The San Francisco Planning Code has specific rules for what kind of businesses open on 24th Street, stating: “Limitations apply to the development and operation of ground-story full-service restaurants, take-out food and entertainment uses.”

“We would oppose a restaurant,” said Arguello. “We would show up at the conditional-use hearing and we would organize.”

40 Comments

  1. Drew

    I don’t care what goes in there, just happy the job is almost finished.

  2. Old Mission Neighbor

    Restaurant sounds good to me. Lower 24th Merchants, please stop standing in the way of business on the corridor you represent. Thanks.

  3. Ted

    Another auto repair shop has been permanently lost to the neighborhood? Where will people get their oil changed or brakes aligned?

    San Francisco will never be the same.

  4. tessa

    Well imagine that. They got community support for retail space to “be used as a retail collective, encouraging small businesses to establish a retail presence and expand their businesses through flexible leases and low overhead costs.” And they lied. Again. Working families and decades old businesses that serve the neighborhood that’s already here are being tossed out right and left to make room for wealthy nobodies with no interest in or respect for the neighborhood beyond their own personal entertainment, and the pig who’s behind this current obscenity thinks his starbucks joke is cute.

    • SF Resident

      Lied? The article says they were foreclosed upon and now there are new owners.

      The Lower 24th Street Merchants are free to pool their resources and buy the commercial space. That is the only way they can have real control over the future of the property.

    • alf

      Why isn’t a solo restaurant a small business? In fact, I would consider nearly all of the food eateries on this block to be small businesses — Sunrise, Wise Sons, Local Mission Eatery, Sidewalk cafe. In fact, the only ones that aren’t small businesses are Philz, who has been there 40 yrs, but has become so wildly successful that he’s huge, and Guadelajara, which has several out of town eateries (I think Sidewalk only has 1 other).
      Also, is there some reason that a restaurant would not be welcome to join the Lower 24th St. Merchants? This building has been an abandoned eyesore for over a decade. No businesses are being pushed out; just new commercial space being created. I’m glad there is something going in there. I live on the corner, know many of my neighbors and have been watching the progress on this daily.

    • Old Mission Neighbor

      tessa, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

      who was pushed out for this development? this building has been vacant for over 5 years, and the previous tenant left long before there was any replacement to make room for.

      read a book.

    • Mystarpower

      Very well said. I agree!

    • Bob

      Tessa you forgot your meds again.

  5. Mission Resident sick of fear of new businesses

    Great overview – ALF….Please Eric – have a broader view – having viable businesses and residents on 24th provides jobs and discourages the hanging out that makes 24th a magnet for petty crime, drug dealing, shootings and psuedo-homeless people to linger…. focus your efforts on harnessing the owners of these new businesses to utilize the talent in the neighborhood.
    How can you honestly sit there and say that getting that building re-habbed – finally – and inhabited by owners and viable businesses is a bad thing? Irresponsible..

  6. what

    I think we should have the space be vacant and serve no one while we bicker away.

  7. Bob

    Let the new owners decide what business makes sense and stop trying to block competition. The “collective” clearly was not a viable idea since they got forclosed.

  8. Carl

    They need to engrave it in people’s minds as a food destination.

    24th street is where you go to for a good choice of food in the Bay Area.

  9. local resident

    I’m super excited to see this place come to life again! I walk past it all the time and have been watching progress.

    I’ll be excited to see what goes in — and I would be happy if it were a nice new restaurant or a retail space — or anything else. Why are people so opposed to restaurants? They bring life and energy to the street! Restaurants draw folks into the neighborhood to spend money and help our local economy. You don’t need to buy a new shirt every day, but everyone has to eat everyday, so restaurants are good business!

    I really hope that the 24th street merchants back down on this. They clearly are not representing the local community interests — I think it is only a very small vocal minority which is resisting the new businesses entering the area.

    • Carlos

      I think that they are protecting the interests of the restaurants allready here by opposing to new competition…

  10. la gente

    Let’s talk the truth. The fear is that a white-owned business will open up in that space.

  11. Pamela

    It is wonderful to see this beautiful building turned into condos. Very lucky the persons who will be living there. A café on the ground floor would be perfect. It it great to see the neighborhood changing for the better, That stretch had been a blight for so many years.

    • Ed

      Philz Haus Sunrise and Sidewalk have the cafe scene pretty well covered in a one block radius there, plus the bakery.

      Landlords aren’t in charge of curating a community. It’s nice if they do, but it’s not a realistic expectation. They buy properties as investments, and then are held to the zoning laws. If you want change, fight the system and change the zoning. Hand picking merchants to fit the loudest complainers’ preference simply isn’t going to happen.

      • Ed

        Correction: I meant developers, not landlords, though it applies to both.

        I just read a few more comments below, regarding the “previous agreements”–unless those are legal documents, then the plans were plans. Plans change. Unless it is zoned for “small retail collective only” then the city can’t now mandate that as the only use. I’d rather see a small retail collective instead of a $50/person restaurant or baby-napping dingo hideout, but it’s unreasonable to expect every business plan to be put to popular vote if it fits within existing allowable use.

  12. Carlos

    If Arguello doesn’t want another restaurant around the corner from my house on Shotwell, then he should lease the space himself and put up whatever type of business he believes should be there.

  13. local resident

    I would personally LOVE to see a new restaurant go in that sold healthy fresh veggie oriented food. Doesn’t have to be vegetarian, but should be pro-vegitables. We have plenty of heavy meaty/cheese/beans restaurants in the area. Some great high quality ones, (like wise-sons, and pork-n-pie, which I also eat at), but I would like more choices. Mission Local Eatery does a great job with emphasizing vegetables, so more places in that mould would be appreciated.

  14. jlsf

    While I believe Erick is a passionate advocate for the neighborhood and I support his efforts on Lower 24th Street, I’m perplexed by his comment about a restaurant failing to add to the street’s daytime foot traffic. In the many neighborhood meetings I have attended, this has not been an issue raised by the community. Valencia Corridor has this concern, but I feel Lower 24th has the opposite problem. The block that houses the building in question only has 3 establishments open at night – Guadalajara, George’s Market, and Local Mission Eatery. All of the other businesses are daytime operations only. I would argue that the dark streets at night are a much greater barrier to creating a safe and vibrant neighborhood.

    • Erick Arguello

      jlsf,

      Appreciate your concern,

      I was referring to Valencia St. which has that issue currently. We lost two retail spaces between Hampshire and Potrero Ave that were combined to create a full service restaurant. Currenlty under construction. There is a current move to evict two businesses that are retail to combine to create another full service restaurant. They are the St. Peters Book Store and GG Tukay who have been there for many years and have a draw. So we are seeing this latest trend, which is not good for the corridor and for neighborhood goods and services. Valencia is also seeing this trend increase and seeing retail evictions.

      Best

      Erick

  15. Erick Arguello

    Thanks for the remarks and concerns raised.

    Our council had been involved with the original owner from the begginning to create a space that would balance the interest of many people and vibrancy of Calle 24 and at the same time maintaining its social fabric.

    The original plan was to demolish the site to build condos which got no support in the neighboorhood and from our council at public meetings held at la Parilla Grill.

    We asked to preserve the building so that it could be a better fit with the area. The height was scalled back and the upper floors were pushed back in order to not create shadows and block sunshine.

    The community embraced a plan from the prior owner to create a affordable retail collective for small businesses. It would be space used for artist,
    crafts made by hand and such. An opportunity
    to display their merchandise in a indoor market enviornment. A good fit with the cooridor that makes it popular. We felt it would have a draw and create foot traffic.

    The plan received community support and full support at the planning commission hearing.

    Unfortunately the prior onwer was not able to get the finance needed and the property was sold.

    We do have no interest to have the space empty. Currently we have a local family interested in purchasing to open a pet food supply (which we do not have on 24th) and sharing the retail collective that was embraced by the community. This would preserve the retail space and have a neighborhood serving business.

    Vanguard representatives have been contacted.

    Erick

    • Bob

      As a neighbor I don’t agree with the attempt to micro-manage commercial space in the area. As you indicate, you already received many concessions from the owners such as preserving the building, limiting its size, and getting set-backs on the upper floor. A restaurant seems reasonable to me. Are you going to donate your income to support a “collective”, or is this yet another demand on the new owner?

  16. Deke

    I think many people here are failing to get the point. The restoration was approved on the basis that the lower level would be for a specific use. Changing ownership should not nullify this agreement.
    What if McDonalds bought the building, would it be okay to turn it into a McDonalds because they are new owners as didn’t agree to restrictions?
    Wait… what if I bought it and decided I wanted to use it as a zoo? One with hippos, baby stealing dingos and skunks trained to spray stench every 5 minutes?
    When you buy a property you inherit the agreements that have previously been made (or at least you should). Otherwise the sale should be conditional upon new use approval.
    If we don’t enforce this, we create a dangerous precident in that someone can buy a property, get approval to remodel and by saying whatever the hell they have to. Then they could sell it and the new owner inherits the rights they want and can ignore agreements or previous restrictions they so choose.
    That’s total crap and while I don’t have a vested interest in what that property is used for, it’s not right that a new owner can relinquish responsibility like this. SF does a good job to make sure SF doesn’t become a strip mall like other cities. They work hard to preserve the identity here and that’s gotta be really hard to do when you have to balance businesses and jobs. But let’s ensure fair oversight and the community is respected regardless of how many times the building changes ownership.

    • what

      You, too, might be missing the point. The “collective” was apparently not viable and fell apart. How is it the builder’s job to find another copy-cat tenant with a business model that failed?

      If you have an idea, propose it. Otherwise, let it go to the highest bidder and we’ll all vote with our wallets.

      • Deke

        I’m not missing that point at all.
        Where does it say in this article that the previous owners were foreclosed on because the collective idea failed? It’s doesn’t.
        But regardless, even of it did, it shouldn’t automatically allow a new owner to void previous agreements.
        If a building is zoned as a condo, and the owner is foreclosed on does that mean a new owner should be able to rent it out as a nightclub? That would be stupid.
        Like I said, I personally don’t care what it’s used for, what I do care about is that if someone gets agreement to restore a building, that there is not some loophole that allows a new owner to void that agreement. To allow this would be stupidity.
        A locally owned pet food store is not a terrible use case, but it’s certainly not as benefitting to the community as a collective art space. So the debate is good to have.

        • alf

          Well, I think it’s debatable what is more valuable to the neighborhood. Maybe a place where neighborhood pet-owners gather would create more community than another art gallery (there are several already including the one next to Wise Sons, the one next to Minxy, the La Raza space and others like the bookshops that host art events). I am unlikely to frequent either, but so what? I also wouldn’t be unhappy about either. I agree with the commenter above — if it wasn’t zoned for a “local art collective”, and I’m guessing it is something more generic like “commercial/retail” then it’s just not likely that something that meets the zoning can’t or shouldn’t move in there. A pet store would have daytime foot-traffic, which Erick says he wants. and while I like and frequent Philz, Haus, Sunrise, Guadelajara, I can think of lots of mid-range eateries that lower 24th doesn’t have like a sit-down pasta and salad restaurant, a pizza place (possibly opening across the street, but doesn’t look big enough for seating), maybe a Savor-type place or even remember when Napper Tandy was that tapas place? anyway, the fact that some people liked the retail collective idea is not evidence that equal numbers of people wouldn’t be just as happy with something else (or with that if it works out).

  17. Lupita

    How about a rec center or something similar for youth at risk, to keep them out of trouble! ppl nag about these kids, ok well help them out then!

    • mission resident

      Sounds like a good idea, but who will pay for this? Social programs aren’t free. Perhaps the parents should be more involved in keeping these kids out of trouble.

    • Mel

      What about a Mission-based online radio station? I had a radio show when I was in high school. Made a huge impact on my life. And I’d sure love to hear a radio show with playlists put together by some of the musicians in the neighborhood – young and old. El Tecolote and Mission Local could do news spots.

  18. Does anyone know how much the landlords are asking for this space?
    Can a pet food store afford the commercial rent on a space that large?

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