Changes could bring tourists to Fillmore 

Commercial changes under way along Fillmore Street south of Post Street could turn the neighborhood into something it hasn’t been for more than 40 years: a tourist attraction.

At least, such is the plan of Kaz Kajimura, the owner of Yoshi’s jazz house and sushi restaurant in Oakland, who plans to open a second Yoshi’s next summer in a $72 million mixed-use property being built at the corner of Fillmore and Eddy streets by private developer EmJohnson Interests.

"There’s a big jazz market in San Francisco, but San Francisco people don’t necessarily like to go over the bridge to Oakland," Kajimura said. "We hardly get any tourists in Oakland. Also the huge convention industry in San Francisco … is a completely new market for us."

The new project is part of a lengthy effort among business owners to cement the lower Fillmore, already billed as a Jazz Preservation District, as an entertainment destination.

Now, the changes are gaining momentum. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a community benefit district along Fillmore and its adjoining blocks, which will raise more than $300,000 a year from property owners that can be spent on marketing, street improvements and cleaning and security. New businesses have opened, from a music café offering dim sum to the vibrantly-colored Sheba Piano Lounge run by sisters Netsanet and Israel Alemayehu. And the building under construction at Eddy and Fillmore will hold 80 condominiums, a parking garage, a 6,000 square foot nonprofit Jazz Heritage Center, a 6,000 square foot Blue Mirror restaurant in addition to the 28,000-square-foot Yoshi’s.

"I think it does have a lot of potential," said Laurie Armstrong, San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman. "In any district, the thing that you need to be attractive to visitors … there needs to be something for them to do and a place for them to land."

But while the Blue Mirror gives a nod to Leola King’s famous jazz-era restaurant of the same name, the changes won’t recreate the past. Fillmore Street was the heart of an extremely vibrant African American community famous for its jazz and street life in the 1940s and 1950s, before it was essentially gutted by The City’s Redevelopment Agency in a push for urban renewal. The eminent domain spree left blocks vacant for years, evicted thousands from their homes and businesses and shut down the jazz scene, which had hosted stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday and Charles Mingus.

Today, while Fillmore is re-built physically through Redevelopment Agency loans and the surrounding Western Addition is still home to many African Americans, the changes in the neighborhood cannot be denied. Entrepreneurs and customers alike are almost as likely to white or Asian as they are black. The establishment of the jazz preservation district years ago did not keep entrepreneurship in black hands, according to Agonafer Shiferaw, the owner of Rasselas, a jazz club.

That has changed business for even the most established shops. For RK SportsWear owner Anna Yue, she hopes the new businesses like Yoshi’s bring more foot traffic to her hip-hop style clothing shop. For Progress Cleaners co-owner Sammy Yip, the demographic changes spell gentrification, and he can charge a little more for dry cleaning. He hopes the new condo residents will chose his shop over a rival next to the Safeway on Webster Street.

"We’re still very affordable. We have good will, so we don’t want to increase prices dramatically," he said.

For Charles Spencer, a serious critic of the Redevelopment Agency and two recent school closures, it means his venerable New Chicago Barbershop No. 3 now does 25 percent of its business with clients who aren’t black men. He wants to increase it to 50 percent and is trying to add non-black barbers.

"I’m trying to keep the culture, but African American [customers alone] cannot keep the shop," he said.

He’s also urging entrepreneurs to consider another potential avenue for change, namely the high-speed buses on Geary Boulevard that could spur the development of transit villages along the route.

Synergy in the sounds

Fillmore already has several music venues, including the Boom Boom Room, The Fillmore and Rasselas. The latter is specifically devoted to jazz, but owner Agonafer Shiferaw said he welcomes the new Yoshi’s. Here’s how the two will be different:

Rasselas

» Books mostly local acts

» Ethiopian restaurant

» Seats 200, with 300 standing room

» No cover weekday nights

Yoshi’s

» Books national, international acts

» Sushi restaurant

» 420-seat club, 250-seat restaurant, 100-seat lounge

» Sells tickets for all shows

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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