Future of Woolworth’s site unclear

Nearly 10 years after the Woolworth’s in the Excelsior district closed, the debate over what to do with the site rages on.

The single-story building at 4550 Mission St. houses a furniture store, but a town-hall meeting is planned for Nov. 17 to bring all parties to the table to finally move forward with a plan to fulfill the potential many see in the old Woolworth’s building.

The delays from debating the scope and size of the project, however, continue to leave the future of the site unresolved, and are cultivating a growing impatience with the process.

“We’re definitely frustrated with the delays, but that’s life in the big city,” developer Tom Walsh said.

There are three development scenarios being bandied about, all with residential units over a ground-floor commercial space, but the question is how many residential units, Walsh said.

The first plan — Walsh’s proposal — includes 17 living units with 5,000 square feet of commercial space. The second plan also has 17 units but would include higher ceilings for more commercial space.

The third plan includes a 56-foot-tall building that would include another floor of living units for an additional six units, Walsh said.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval said he favors the higher-density proposal because it would begin to support retail stores on the now “moribund” street.

“My point of view is [that] increasing the density is the answer,” Sandoval said. “It would bring more pedestrians, more residents and more shopping dollars to the area.”

But according to Christy Johnston, the project manager for the Excelsior Action Group, while most in the neighborhood want to see a project go in at the site, there is mixed feelings about height and the potential “Manhattanization” — high buildings that block out the sun — of the Excelsior district with a taller building.

“We wanted to see something a little more exciting in that space because it could be an anchor,” Johnston said.

Walsh said the additional housing and higher ceilings for retail were “good ideas” by Sandoval but to date there has been little follow-up.

“The deal has to be something agreed on between the neighborhood groups and the supervisor,” he said. “His job was to go sell his favorite to the neighborhood groups. To this point that hasn’t happened,” he said.

Sandoval said the process is the way it is so the surrounding community has plenty of input. “There’s no inordinate delay, and the community shouldn’t allow itself to be bushwhacked” by developers, he added.

dsmith@examiner.com

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