San Francisco’s development wars are migrating from the waterfront to a sentimental property in the heart of SoMa: the San Francisco Flower Mart.
Working with former Mayor Art Agnos and former Supervisor Aaron Peskin – who led the battle against waterfront projects like the 8 Washington condominium project and the Warriors arena on Piers 30-32 – a group of flower market tenants are staking out turf for what could be a long fight over the development of a tech office campus that will likely top a million square feet.
“To me this is the new chapter in the struggle for the heart and soul of San Francisco,” Agnos said.
On Sept. 11 the board of the San Francisco Flower Growers Association is scheduled to vote on the $26.6 million sale of its shares to Kilroy Realty Corp., one of San Francisco’s biggest developers and commercial landlords. If the board votes in favor of the deal, the 1.9-acre property would be transferred to Kilroy.
‘All lip service’
Tenants say that they have had no direct communication with their future landlord, Kilroy, or their current landlord, the San Francisco Flower Growers Association. The tenants’ lease expires at the end of the year, and they want longer leases and guarantees that their businesses will be part of any new plan.
“There has not been one phone call, no information. It’s all been through the grapevine,” said Patrick McCann, who owns Greenworks, a flower wholesaler and retailer. “Will we be out of business come Dec. 31? Do we all need to find new places to work? It’s been all lip service.”
In a statement Kilroy, which is currently building headquarters for Salesforce and Dropbox in San Francisco, said it “remains committed to working with adjacent owners, existing tenants, and the city to preserve the Flower Mart at its current location.”
“After we acquire the site from the San Francisco Flower Growers Association, we look forward to conducting an extensive outreach and planning process to create a modern facility to be enjoyed by growers, tenants, buyers and visitors for many decades to come,” the statement said.
Tenants are holding a news conference Wednesday to talk about the project and their demands.
Agnos was behind Proposition B, the successful June ballot measure that prohibits development on Port of San Francisco land exceeding zoned height limits unless approved by voters. And he said he would support another ballot initiative if the flower market is not adequately protected. “It would be an easy choice for voters: Do you want another high-tech office park or do you want a flower market?”
The San Francisco Flower Mart is the second-largest market of its kind in the United States, eclipsed only by the market in Los Angeles. About 90 percent of the mart, where 88 businesses are located, is controlled by two major associations: the Italian American-dominated San Francisco Flower Growers Association on the western half of the site and the Japanese American California Flower Market on the eastern half.
The property owned by the California Flower Market is not included in the sale agreement with Kilroy, but the group’s general manager, Bob Otsuka, said his group is in talks with “an experienced real estate developer” – presumably Kilroy – on a larger project that would include the entire property.
McCann said that tenants are just starting to understand what is happening with the property. “They are out there growing, cutting and bringing flowers in,” he said. “When you talk to them about this stuff, they are like deer in the headlights.”
He said the lack of a long-term leases and uncertainty about the future has left business owners in limbo.
“You are at the whim of the owners. You can’t market it, you can’t sell. Who is going to buy a one-year lease? What if you are sick? You can’t get out. I have invested $250,000 in a business I can’t sell.”