The humongously ambitious 5M development, named for its Fifth and Mission locale, promises an “urban melting pot of new cafes, eateries, and galleries” — but you’re more likely to notice the big, shiny 450-foot condo spire and the hulking collection of new office buildings.
If you’ve ever drank at the Tempest, you know a little alley called Natoma Street that certainly has its charms, but is not the most glamorous section of town. It’s about to get a very dramatic facelift that will apply to seven parking lots and eight buildings, covering a span of more than five whole blocks. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the enormous 5M condo, office space, retail, and public park complex will break ground this summer as current developer Brookfield Properties finally has all its permits in place and lawsuits settled.
A very exciting 22,000 square-foot rooftop park atop the soon-to-be-renovated Chronicle building is hyped as one one of the crown jewels of this project, but passersby are certainly more likely to notice the gigantic high-rise condominiums and office buildings. The staggering scope of the 5M project is pretty well explained by this illustration from Sitelab Urban Studio, and you’ll see that the condo and office space complexes tower over anything else in the neighborhood.
The origins of this megaproject go back to 2007, when the Hearst Corporation (which owns the Chronicle) started exploring plans to redevelop not only the Chronicle building, but also four acres of mostly parking lots and run-down buildings around Mission and Howard Streets. The plans were formally introduced in 2014, with admittedly rather handsome architecture, but it quickly drew the ire of affordable housing advocates and then-supervisor Jane Kim, who charged the development would gentrify and “accelerate speculation” and possibly displace the many SROs in the neighborhood. Community groups filed appeals, but Sup. Kim eventually endorsed 5M when developer Forest City promised to make the project 40% affordable housing, and the Board of Supervisors gave it the thumbs up in late 2015 with that concession.
You’d think that would have settled things, but people, this is San Francisco. Critics charged that none of this 40% affordable housing was actually on-site, it was just a payoff to the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation to build units that they were already building (Current plans call for 58 “affordable” units in one of the smaller new buildings). A coalition of neighborhood groups sued the city to block the project in early 2016, successfully delaying (but not derailing) 5M for three and a half years. In that time, one of the vacant buildings caught fire to further complicate the project.
But the neighborhood activists’ appeal was ultimately denied, as the Chronicle reported in March, after a panel of judges gave 5M its (presumably) final approval. During these proceedings, Hearst Corp. sold many of the buildings to Forest City. Then Forest City was bought up by Brookfield Asset Management, so the developer is now “Brookfield Properties,” still an out-of-town real estate giant but one whose South of Market jackpot looks ready to finally materialize.
There are nearly 700 units of housing here, and the distribution of market-rate and affordable units is pretty complicated. “The project is approved for 400 market-rate condos, 211 market-rate rental apartments and 91 units targeting middle-income households earning between 100 percent and 150 percent of area median income,” the Business Times reports. “In addition to the 91 on-site affordable middle-income units, 83 units of senior housing are being built on the same block. Another 71 units of family housing, including 19 units for formerly homeless families, are being funded a few blocks from 5M at 168 Eddy St. as part of a project by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp.”
The 5M project’s official website makes the whole thing look like an “artist and maker” playground where predominantly people of color will enjoy “vibrant” food truck parties and all manner of cultural events. And yes, Brookfield Properties is shelling out a half million bucks to the SF Arts Commission and to adjacent renovation or restoration projects. But they certainly downplay the obvious fact that this is a colossal condominium and office complex, and that’s how this billion-dollar project plans to make its developers even more insanely wealthy.
Still, there was a whole lot of give-and-take as this thing inched through its years-long approval process, and the city won a very large number of generous developer concessions. If the pretty renderings you saw throughout this post end up resembling reality, this will be a spectacular upgrade to an underused, eyesore slice of downtown. It’s tempting to think that the system actually worked this time. But San Franciscans with good memories know that even the most fabulous developments have curious ways of sinking and tilting, developing cracked beams, or just not being everything they were cracked up to be.
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