Mayor Ed Lee took a walk down Market Street on Monday. He wasn’t alone. A shirtless man in a wheelchair mumbling nonsense was just one of many such people wandering the streets in front of liquor stores and vacant shops.
But there was something noticeably different as well. A herd of journalists followed as Lee chatted about the bright future he envisions for a blighted stretch of “The Slot,” as Market Street was once known, that has doggedly resisted change.
While past efforts to revitalize the area into the mid-Market Street commercial and entertainment district failed, this time around they could be working.
A tax incentive brought the neighborhood’s most famous business, Twitter, to 1355 Market St. in 2012. With the company planning to go public Thursday, national attention has been focused on the stretch of Market Street between Van Ness Avenue and Fifth Street that could be pulled out of its torpor on Twitter’s coattails.
Since the launch of San Francisco’s 2011 payroll-tax exclusion, a number of other companies — The City says 17 — have opted to open in the area. Between 2010 and 2012, the area saw a 21 percent increase in sales-tax revenue and an 8 percent decline in vacancies.
Along with new business has come new housing: 5,000 units have been approved or are under construction, nearly 1,500 of them below market rate, according to The City.
Additionally, the Central Market Community Benefit District was formed in 2006 to use tax revenue to improve the area.
“We did begin this idea of revitalizing this hardest part of town where the vacancy rates were hovering around 30 percent just a couple years ago,” Lee said Monday. “I believe … the payroll-tax exemption, the temporary one that we gave to companies like Twitter that locate in this area,” has started to turn around the neighborhood.
The mayor’s stroll, which started outside Twitter’s offices, stopped at several small businesses, their owners vouching for the green shoots of success along The City’s central thoroughfare.
Jeannie Kim, who opened Sam’s Diner at 1220 Market St. eight years ago, said she’s already seen safety improvements and changes in the number and type of clientele over the past two years. She attributed the shift to an improving economy and The City’s efforts to attract new business.
When Lee’s entourage arrived at 1073 Market St., home of Huckleberry Bicycles, co-owner Zack Stender said that while the area has a long way to go, there has been real change already. “I think Mayor Lee and his administration have done more for this stretch than any [administration] in the last 40 or 50 years,” Stender said.
Lee’s office said that over the next 20 years, the tax incentive will bring an additional $54 million to city coffers.
The multiyear payroll-tax holiday applies to all new jobs created along a stretch of Market Street from roughly Fifth to 10th streets and north into part of the Tenderloin.
Still, it is unknown how much money The City has or will lose from the tax dollars not collected because of the incentive.