San Francisco OKs Redevelopment Plan : Downtown Project Pays Heed to Recreational, Cultural Uses

Site preparation has started on a $750-million redevelopment project to provide a new face and life to San Francisco's South of Market area.

The 24-acre Yerba Buena Gardens have the goal of providing the city with revenue and jobs as well as residential, retail, recreational and cultural facilities, while increasing availability of high-quality hotel and office space.

"With Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco will have facilities that otherwise couldn't be financed by the city," according to Marvin J. Richman. president of Olympia & York California Equities Corp., a partner in the development. "The city exchanged public development rights for public benefits."

Other partners are the Marriott Corp., which is expected to break ground for a 29-story, 1,500-room convention hotel this year, and Beverly A. Willis, a San Francisco architect and businesswoman.

The land-disposition contract was approved by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Board of Supervisors last December after four years of negotiations. The project area is bounded by Market, Folsom, 3rd and 4th streets, including the air rights of the Moscone Convention Center, and part of a fourth block on the east side of 3rd Street between Mission and Howard streets.

Redevelopment agency officials predict that Buena Yerba Gardens will eventually generate more than $19 million annually in tax revenues (up to $16 million during the early years of operation) and produce 4,500 new jobs.

This will be on top of the estimated $3 million a year in participation revenues from the office buildings, hotel and retail facilities, beginning in the year 2000.

The developer has agreed to pay market rate prices for the purchase of fee interests in the office and residential land and market-rate rental for the balance of the project.

"We agreed to this market-rate approach on the explicit condition that the redevelopment agency return all the monies paid by the developer back to this project for the purpose of building and maintaining the public improvements," explained Joseph Madonna, general manager of Buena Yerba Gardens.

The Gardens' cultural facilities will include a 600-seat proscenium theater, more than 20,000-square feet of museum-class exhibition space and a 10,000-square-foot flexible space for performing and visual arts or educational purposes.

Plans also call for a multi-screen cinema center, restaurants, nightclubs and indoor ice skating rink. Open, park-like areas will accomodate sightseers, picnickers and attendees at open-air concerts.

The northernmost of the three central blocks, will contain the Marriott Hotel and a 29-story office building. Joining the two will be the Grant Avenue Concourse, a 120-foot high galleria lined on two levels with retail shops and restaurants.

St. Patrick's Church will be enhanced by a new, European-style square surrounded by retail shops, restaurants and vendors. A low-rise building containing 40 condominiums above ground-floor shops will be built overlooking the square.

The middle block, between Mission and Howard streets, will be the focal point of the Gardens' retail, recreational, cultural and entertainment facilities. Its highlights will be the Festival Plaza and Esplanade.

The third block, between Howard and Folsom streets, site of the largely underground Moscone center, will be enhanced with the Starlight Gardens.

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