Robert Tillman said he had no reason to gloat after winning a major victory to entitle his project. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

The Mission District site of the “historic laundromat” has a proud new owner: Lawrence Lui.

Robert Tillman, the 13-year owner of the laundromat at 2918 Mission St., closed the sale with Lui on April 11. Based on the recorded transfer tax of $371,250, Lui acquired the property for around $13.5 million.

Lui was not immediately available for comment. But Tillman spent five years getting the site approved for an eight-story, 75-unit building; these entitlements all but certainly enhanced the property’s value.

“I feel like I’ve had migraine for five years and asked myself, ‘I feel so good — what’s missing?’” Tillman told Mission Local on Wednesday, offering no further details. “I’m under NDA” — a non-disclosure agreement — “and I can’t talk about” the deal.

The sale is the ostensible final chapter in a saga that exposed the worst of planning and development in San Francisco. Despite community concerns about dropping a nearly 90-percent market-rate building into the heart of the gentrifying Mission, Tillman steadfastly refused to go to the bargaining table with community groups, augment the percentage of affordable housing on the site, or include additional community benefits.

After finally receiving approval from the city last October, Tillman unabashedly said: “I just want to sell my property, get the best price for it, and move on.” This month, that happened.  

Tillman’s unapologetic and single-minded crusade to line up the biggest bang for his buck prompted criticism from city officials, most notably Supervisor Hillary Ronen. The city delayed Tillman’s plans on multiple occasions: In 2018 he was made to underwrite a 137-page study examining if the laundromat was a “historic resource” (it was not).

Later that year, his project was put on hold so more work could be done to analyze the impact of potential future shadows across an adjacent school’s playgrounds — at hours it would be open to the public if that school was participating in the city’s San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project. It is not.

That prompted a lawsuit from Tillman in August 2018. In October, however, the city quietly acquiesced, and Tillman’s project was discreetly approved.

The sale to Lui also all but certainly precludes another potentially bizarre twist to the saga of the historic laundromat. A developer perhaps even more reviled by the local community than Tillman — Maximus Real Estate Partners — had said it would purchase the land and offer it the city as part of its community benefits package for its proposed 331-unit project at 16th and Mission. Now it appears even less likely that’ll happen.

Lui’s company, Stanford Hotels, owns 12 hotels around the country, with one currently in development in Seattle. Lui also owns Cresleigh Development, which has proposed several ambitious projects in San Francisco, but has not yet brought them to fruition.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. After cheering on this NIMBY blocking of home construction, I bet you also are baffled at why nobody in San Francisco can seem to find housing for a decent price. Moron.

  2. Nobody is talking about what this story of NIMBY and YIMBYism really is. Not the ReasonTV video, not the SF Chronicle and not this website.

    This is about air rights, and whether you should benefit off the air above you during a sale of your property.

    I personally say no, you do not have the right to the air above you, that is public space. Tillman has all the rights in the world to sell his property as is. The next owner may even have the right to tear down the old structure and build a new one at the same or similar height. What they don’t have a right to is building an 8 story structure in it’s place without it benefitting the rest of the community.

    Because Tillman didn’t want to do that, that’s why he faced push back. Because his property would only be valued at ~3 million if it was left in it’s current state, instead of the 13 million he eventually got.

    The only way I see out of this housing shortage situation is for the city to force a right of refusal for any future property sales. Berlin is considering doing similar. Then the city can buy the property and put it in a trust and build denser housing in it’s place, but keep it city owned and offer affordable housing under their own terms, not leave it to the whim of a builder.

    So congrats Tilly. You made about 10 million jumping through the hoops. The SF government will be wiser next time.

  3. What a pile of BS from Tillman. NO OBJECTIONS FROM NEIGHBORS ? ?
    I’ve owned my building on Bartlett st –1/2 block from Tillman’s laundromat– for over 45 yrs.

    I and other neighbors call his greed….greed. A 9 story stack of closet sized dark units with no parking ,lots of variances, and a long shadow which will remove most of the eastern sky.
    Nothing like a whiney rich Marinite to reap and run.

    I said this to City planners with Tillman a few feet away. He is just another lying speculator.

    1. Unfortunately your concerns re: design, scale, shadows, how it fits, aesthetics have been usurped by the identity politics people. Your real (physical) priorities are a weak voice drowned out by single group identity politics. I would really expect a little higher IQ perspective from San Francisco, instead of the noise drowning out the real. Displacement? Welcome to the new world, baby. Is this “keep the poor people from moving” is that a US thing? I’ve seen so many cities economically flip. If you don’t have a big paying job, you’re gone when the rents quadruple. It’s called economics, children. Mixing bums and ski resorts is not a good idea. And anyone who thinks they own the neighborhood and protests on the corner is basically a distortion hound bum. Things change. If you’re not rich, don’t expect to live in a rich area. Seriously people, get a real job instead of this appropriation hacks and their weird me-first tribal mentality. It is hardly unique to SF or CA, these entitled dopey attitude driven monsters got stealing on their mind and nothing on the ball, want to get subsidized housing is what they want. Well no one subsidizes my housing, ever has or ever will. And I don’t like able-bodied professional beggars and appropriation artists.

      1. A city cannot function if only highly paid tech employees can afford to live there. Who’s going to sweep your streets? Collect garbage? Cook your meals? Teach your children?

        I’m one of those tech people and I still recognize that my fellow citizens deserve roofs over their heads, even if their jobs are seen as “inferior” by the likes of you.

  4. I would like to thank all of my immediate neighbors for their support of the 2918 Mission St. project. To the best of my knowledge, not a single resident within 300 feet of the project opposed it. Over the past five years I have received numerous in person and email expressions of support for the project from these immediate neighbors. Thank you!

    1. Go Bob! Appreciate that your efforts helped give rise to the phrase historic laundromat and turned it into a rallying call for people who want the city to fix its totally hijacked and broken permitting process.

  5. Why do you keep calling it historic when it’s not? Your own article even says it’s not historic.

      1. The building doesnt fit the historic designation guidelines, but it is considered a historic asset by the Latino Community. Please do a little more research before filling your words with sarcasm. There are tangible and intangible assets in historic preservation.

        1. Ana, you must be a hoarder and keep everything if you think this laundromat is a historical asset. We all know that was a ploy used by NIMBY’s to delay the approval. No real people think it’s an asset other than Russian social media bots. Sorry, you’ve been duped.

  6. Congratulations Robert! So pleased your 5 years of torture from Ronen, Calle 24, and MEDA is finally over. No one deserves to go through such Hell. Definitely reflects the worst of planning and development in SF. You are indeed a hero for sticking it out. May you live the rest of your life in peace and good health.

  7. People be ashamed of your comments. Please study the history of the red lining for this District and injustices done to the poor and people of color in regards to the ownership of property before commenting. Planning continues to approve these high density projects without 10 yr plan of open space and schools. Families need open space and schools! people. The Mission is the oldest neighborhood in San Francisco with the oldest infrastructure. People should be asking why arent the developers paying for the upgrade of the sewers and storm water system and not SF residents. We should be asking monies for new parks and asking the school districts what their project population in ten years for the existing school .

    1. The Mission is not the oldest neighborhood in SF, as it was built out after 1900. Mission Dolores is the oldest building in SF, but it is considered to be in the Castro (*not by me*). The infrastructure in the Mission is also not the oldest. SFPUC has clear reporting on this manner.

    2. I agree with Ana. Get rid of the affordable housing requirement and make all new development market rate. Take this money and put it into repairing roads, schools, sewers, create open spaces, etc…. Things that ALL people can enjoy vs. a few lucky lottery winners.

  8. Tillman only won approval from the Planning Commission by skirting local height limits with a California loophole. We need more small-scale housing development in the Mission. Keep the over-priced monsters in South Beach and Mission Bay.

    1. Sorry J — but there were no “loopholes” involved, just the application of the law — State Law.

  9. “Developer sells land after fighting years to retain his rights” — Cultural gentrification and genocide.
    “Homeowner in the Mission selling a run down place for $2m in two weeks” — Crickets.

  10. Congrats Robert!!! The end of the nightmare caused by Ronen, Calle 24, MEDA. And you wonder why in SF, development costs and market rents are so high.

  11. “A developer perhaps even more reviled by the local community than Tillman…”? Who says he’s “reviled?” I AM “the local community”…when you slander someone like this, you should at least label the story as an Op/Ed piece. Robert Tillman is a hero. He’s one of the few San Franciscans brave and persistent enough to stand up the the racketeering and shakedown tactics of MEDA, Calle 24, et al to pursue his rights as he sees fit. Kudos, Robert, and well…done.

    1. If only Mueller were to investigate all the backroom dealing and graft that went into this whole charade. All this stalling, in spite of even the best of intentions (which I have reason to doubt after living here 20 years), is not the way to solve problems. Enough with the performances already.

    2. Agreed. Wanting to maximize your return on investment is a rational behavior. Doing otherwise would be irrational and should not be glorified

        1. After being screwed by the planning commission for completely bogus reasons for years and having to spend over a million dollars to get the project rolling, yes, maximizing every nickel you can out of the parcel is ethical.

    3. Good catch. Every once in a while the mask drops, and we see how biased and out of touch Mission Local can be.

      Truth is, this is a huge black eye for Hillary Ronen. More than anyone else, she’s the one most associated with the “historic laundromat” quip, because she’s the one who tried to give it legal standing. That effort backfired, of course, and Ronen did not fare well in the ensuing legal battles.

    4. Agreed although I imagine the supporters of MEDA and Calle 24 DO revile him, which is how I read it, so I don’t agree it’s slander.

    5. Andy, Thank you! Julien in my experience is a very good reporter, and I do not think that he meant to disparage me.

      1. Tidy ROI you made there. At least you embarrassed Rosania on your way out. So much for that ballot measure.

        1. As well as embarrassing Hilary Ronen, triumphing over her illegal actions and exposing her as the bad faith actor that she is!

          Well Done!

    6. Anyone know the $ amount of the Ronen / MEDA extortion buyout price that was offered to Tillman earlier on in the process?

      1. $9 million. Moss had the cash in a suitcase ready to go. Ronen said she’d throw in a $50 gift card to Pancho Villa. It went down like a deleted scene from My Cousin Vinnie.

        1. Wrong again.
          Sam Moss is not associated with MEDA — He heads up the non-profit Mission Housing Development Corporation.

    7. A multimillionaire who was trying to exploit this property for the highest sale price from his home / “business” in Sausalito is “the local community”?

      Maybe to y’all transplants and YIMBY’s that’s what counts, but not to anybody with any sense or human empathy for the gentrification and displacement happening in the Mission District.

    8. You are part of the local community. No one person is a community.

      I’ve gone after Tillman a couple times. I’ve gone after Rosania harder.

      1. And how has that “worked out”?

        BTW, Maximus’s (Rosania’s) project is coming back as a State Density Bonus Project — taller, more units and no more having to deal with the extortive b.s. and delaying tactics from the NIMBY/Nativist mob.

        Stay tuned!