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Foreign Cinema expansion­ raises concern over size, Mission gentrification

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Foreign Cinema is looking to add a wine bar by expanding into a vacant storefront, which would increase the restaurant’s size to 18,196 square feet. (Courtesy Foreign Cinema/Facebook)
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A popular restaurant’s plans to expand into a vacant storefront after nearly two decades in the Mission are raising questions about whether a traditionally low-income block needs another high-end bar.

Foreign Cinema is seeking city approval to add a wine bar to the restaurant on Mission Street between 21st and 22nd streets.

The Planning Commission is expected to decide today whether Foreign Cinema can open a wine bar inside the vacant commercial space next door, between the restaurant at 2534 Mission St. and Alamo Drafthouse’s New Mission Theater.

Though the project has the support of groups the restaurant has held fundraisers for, including the Human Rights Campaign and a nonprofit LGBT organization called LYRIC, the restaurant expansion has raised concerns about the gentrification of Mission Street.

Foreign Cinema brands itself as an 18-year-old “magical destination for local, national and international visitors.” The restaurant is on the same block as the expensive El Techo rooftop bar and the luxury Vida condominiums.

“Mission Street is very rapidly becoming another Valencia Street with high-end restaurants, wine bars, brew pubs and high-end retail,” said J. Scott Weaver of United to Save the Mission, a group focused on stemming gentrification in the neighborhood. “We seem to be losing Mission Street block-by-block.”

Foreign Cinema did not respond to a request for comment.

The restaurant expansion is also facing opposition from city planners.

The Planning Department is recommending the commission vote against the expansion because the proposed restaurant would be larger than permitted under zoning controls for the area and the front of the restaurant would be “out of scale” with the neighborhood.

Restaurants are limited to 6,000 square feet in the Mission Neighborhood Commercial Transit. Foreign Cinema already has more than 12,000 square feet of space, and the proposal would increase the restaurant’s size to 18,196 square feet.

Planning Commission Vice President Dennis Richards said the size of the restaurant is “eye-popping” and expressed concern about the stretch of Mission Street turning into another Valencia Street packed with bars and restaurants that do not typically serve local Mission residents.

“I love Foreign Cinema,” Richards said. “But you really got to put it in context with what else is going on in the neighborhood.”

Stephanie Felch of Praxis Architects, the architect behind the project, argued in a Nov. 3 letter to the Planning Commission that the restaurant has a positive impact on the neighborhood.

Felch said the expansion would create between 30 to 40 new jobs for local residents.

“The Foreign Cinema currently employs 130 staff members and more than half of the employees live in the Mission,” Felch wrote. “It is a Foreign Cinema hiring policy to hire locally.”

Edward Kaufman, executive director of a nonprofit youth group called Mission Graduates—–, also wrote in support of the restaurant expansion.

“Our friends at Foreign Cinema have proven to be staunch community partners, receptive to the varying needs of the changing Mission landscape,” Kaufman wrote Oct. 5. “They are a familiar face, in an ever-changing neighborhood.”–

Richards said he has yet to decide how he will vote on the proposal.

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