When the Golden State Warriors — and partner Kaiser Permanente — built an 11-acre entertainment, retail and dining complex around the newly opened Chase Center in Mission Bay and gave it a snappy name — Thrive City — they were following a well-worn blueprint. The dance between city and sports team goes like this: sports team builds arena in overlooked city neighborhood; restaurants, shops and nightlife follow sports team; hotels and condos eventually appear; neighborhood thrives, everyone makes money, wash, rinse repeat.
The new neighborhood always — not sometimes, always — comes with a jaunty ear worm of a name, like LoDo (Denver), The Banks (Cincinnati) Light & Power (Kansas City), DoCo (Sacramento’s Downtown Commons, home of the new Golden1 arena and formerly a shopping mall on life support) and our own Thrive City. But does slapping a catchy name on a collection of theme restaurants, team stores and hotel rooms really make a neighborhood thrive?
(Full disclosure: I am a raving, foam finger-wearing, lunatic fringe fan of the Golden State Warriors, no matter who’s playing small forward. Even if the paltry number of games I actually manage to attend every year year won’t change with the move to San Francisco, the increased odds of spotting Klay Thompson at the dog park have me hyped. Thrive City, baby!)
The seemingly airtight formula that a new ballpark equals downtown success is not without its detractors. To begin with, most of these projects are at least in part publicly funded. Also, a “restaurant row” built around a 10,000 square-foot Macaroni Grille isn’t everyone’s idea of urban bliss. And finally, there’s the 2012 George Washington University study, which suggested that the actual economic impact of basketball arenas specifically may be negligible. “Basketball arenas,” the study notes, “are not primary catalysts of economic development but are instead economic complements.”
Richard Florida, referring to the study in CityLab.com, adds, “basketball arenas… are highly dependent on the local economic, social and cultural context where they are located.”
This is actually good news for for the Warriors — and for us.
Chase Center and Thrive City which, at full completion will feature five restaurants (including a “High Energy Food Hall by Michael Mina”, a wine bar, a Chase bank branch, a Warriors merchandise store and “Hooptopia,” a multimedia experience in which visitors will be “taken through the life of an NBA player and get to experience it firsthand,” differ from preior sports/revival projects for two primary reasons: first, the arena and surrounding 11 acres of office space, open space, restaurants, shops, etc. was all privately financed. No need to have the “we should be spending that money on something else” debate here. The buck, in this case $1.4 billion of them, stops with the Warriors.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, nobody’s asking Thrive City to save Mission Bay. Unlike Denver’s LoDo, perhaps the most notable success story among the “Sports Team Saves City” tales, which was a wasteland of dilapidated warehouses and had a population of 200 prior to the construction of Coors Field, Mission Bay has been a boomtown for over a decade. It has a population of 6,000-plus, not including the transient population of workers who flood the neighborhood each weekday. Mission Bay’s 94158 zip code already has the second-highest residential median market rent of $4,614 in San Francisco (#11 nationwide). It trails only its closest neighbor, Rincon and South Beach’s 94105. The neighborhood has been steadily building its infrastructure and already has restaurants, bars, shops, and transit. Unlike its spiritual cousins in Sacramento, Kansas City and Baltimore, Thrive City isn’t being asked to do too much because in many ways, , Mission Bay is already thriving.
That doesn’t mean Thrive City won’t be a key addition to its neighborhood. Mission Bay and neighboring China Basin now have just about a monopoly on Bay Area professional sports (the 49ers play an hour away), a critical mass of nightlife, office space and a significant medical campus, and a constantly growing inventory of high-density housing. The neighborhood is within a brisk walk or a short Muni ride of downtown. To that template Chase Center and Thrive City will create an estimated 3,000-plus permanent jobs and $14 million in tax receipts and add 3.2 acres of public plazas and open space, plus a 5.5-acre waterfront park.
Traffic is a concern naturally, what with 20,000 people coming in and out of the neighborhood for games and events. The Warriors and Mayor London Breed have addressed this by offering “transit bundling” on game days, essentially turning your Warriors tickets into Muni passes and sending a clear message: walk, ride, jog…but don’t drive into Thrive City.
Maybe take it with a grain of salt when a diehard Warriors fan tells you this, but so far it looks like the team and the city are doing Thrive City right. That doesn’t mean the new complex will “save” Mission Bay, but Mission Bay doesn’t need any saving. And we’ll take a Michael Mina food court instead of that Macaroni Grille, thanks.
This is San Francisco, after all.
The Market Musings real estate column appears every other Wednesday. Larry Rosen is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, podcaster and recovering former Realtor. He is a guest columnist and his viewpoint is not necessarily that of the Examiner.