The shops and restaurants on Valencia Street might be getting a new neighbor.
A project, dubbed “560 Valencia,” is underway to turn Blu Dot Furniture into a cannabis retail and consumption space at 560 Valencia St.
In the first of three community meetings, the project’s partners highlighted plans Tuesday night for the store’s interior and their estimated opening timeline – December 31, 2021. First, however, the project will have to get the Planning Commission’s approval for a conditional use permit because of the mixed-use commercial and residential zoning requirements in the Mission.
Will Dolan, an attorney and the project’s sponsor, told the small handful of community members listening in on the virtual meeting, that the 4,984 square foot space will be turned into San Francisco’s first cannabis equity marketplace –-promoting equity and access to those interested in consuming cannabis legally and to those looking to break into the industry.
Although it is early in the process, the project met no opposition at its first outreach meeting.
Dolan moved to San Francisco in 2005 to get his law degree at the University of San Francisco and earlier qualified for medical marijuana for a hearing disability. The project, he said, is the culmination of his years-long interest in commercial cannabis and cannabis equity.
He has four partners in the project’s development – two have experience in cannabis and equity, the others are a community engagement consultant and an architect experienced in hospitality and retail design. To read more about the project’s partners, see the meeting’s presentation here.
The project’s team applied for a cannabis business permit with San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis in October 2018 and had the first phase of the application approved in February of this year.
The team is currently conducting community outreach and engagement through December, and Tuesday’s virtual, bilingual meeting will be followed by at least two more before going before the San Francisco Planning Department for a Conditional Use Authorization. The project will need approval from multiple city departments, including the Office of Cannabis, before opening.
Dolan said that among their goals is also to create around 40 to 50 new jobs that include benefits and above-market wage rates.
Hiring will prioritize Mission residents, as well as people that have been affected negatively by the “War on Drugs,” and people with disabilities. Their aim is also to provide rent-free incubation space at the site where cannabis Equity Applicants and entrepreneurs can grow their business.
These are individuals who meet the San Francisco Office of Cannabis’ equity eligibility criteria based on residency, income, criminal justice involvement, and housing insecurity.
The first occupant of 560 Valencia’s incubation space will be Ivan Castro, the co-founder, and CEO of DCCX Brand, Inc, an equity-certified cannabis brand. He’s also the co-founder of Locals Equity Distro, an equity cannabis distribution company. Castro, born and raised in the Mission District, will be able to operate out of the store for three years.
“This is such an important space for us Equity Applicants, to collaborate, and develop, and to just combine resources,” said Castro.
One part of the store will be sectioned off for the incubator area, while a larger space in the center will be for selling cannabis to customers. Inventory will be mainly equity-certified and locally sourced cannabis.
Backroom storage will be secured by a door and contain metal cages to protect the products. There will be two security checkpoints at the front of the store, one by the public entrance and another by the service entrance.
A hermetically sealed consumption and education area for people to safely consume their cannabis will be located behind the retail space. Educational programs teaching people about what cannabis to consume and how will also use the consumption area.
Cynthia Villamizar, one of the project team members, co-founder of the Bay Area Latinos in Cannabis Alliance (BALCA), an advocacy group, and the Spanish translator for the presentation, voiced appreciation for the education space.
“A consumption lounge and this sort of educational space is really difficult to come by,” said Villamizar, also the founder of a cannabis education program, Cyntivee, that teaches beginners about the wellness benefits of cannabis. It’s best to walk someone through it in person, to get the full sensory experience, she added.
“And, so frequently, it’s just not doable in a lot of spaces that are currently available, so this would be monumentally impactful for community education,” she said.
Nearby, at 21st Street and Mission, the dispensary Mission Cannabis Club also plans to open its own consumption lounge as soon as possible.
AJ Prasaguet, a managing partner at Mission Cannabis Club, said they’re just waiting for the pandemic to simmer down. But Prasaguet isn’t worried about the new Valencia operation. “We have a pretty loyal base, and we have our own niche,” he said. “It’s healthy competition. It just requires everyone to step up their game.”
And the business owners on the block between 16th and 17th streets on Valencia needn’t worry about inhaling the smoke or dealing with crowds. Their potential new neighbor plans to be very considerate, they promised Tuesday night.
The front of the space will be a designated waiting area for customers, who, after checking in with their IDs and registering with security, will queue before going in to shop. This is to prevent any lines of people from spilling onto the sidewalk outside. Two restrooms that are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible will also be available to be people inside the marketplace.
And, according to Dolan, they are installing a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system to manage the air filtration. The system equipment will be installed around 25 feet or more back from the edge of the property.
“That’s going to be one way that we’re going to mitigate any type of nuisance, or noise, or odor to any of the neighboring properties,” said Dolan. “That’s one of the reasons why we chose 560 Valencia to build this project.” A shorter, narrower space wouldn’t have been as ideal, said Dolan.
The construction and installation of these elements will begin after Blu Dot vacates the premises at the end of June 2021, according to the projected timeline in the presentation. The target grand opening date is December 2021.
“This is more than about us, about this project,” said Dolan. “It’s about the equity community.” And giving people a retail space like this to operate out of, and the tools to do something really special, he added. With this marketplace, Dolan hopes that brands can, “put their vision to work in front of customers and consumers, and really take it to the next level.”