Ken Garcia: Will mid-Market clamoring lead to any real changes?

When Mayor Gavin Newsom arrived at the official opening of an art supply store last week to trumpet his desire to remake the mid-Market Street area, one of the people on hand called it a place ripe for revitalization.

And a brief, aromatic stroll will confirm that the long-suffering area is ripe. Whether it’s finally ready for revitalization is still open for debate.

Few areas of San Francisco have proved more vexing for city leaders during the past few decades. Mid-Market has been the subject of an untold number of redevelopment plans, zoning schemes and big ideas, all of which have landed on the backbench of history.

But Newsom’s appearance at the opening of Blick Art Materials gave some of the area’s principals a modicum of hope, since he has been trying to rev up interest in the district’s future — something that has rarely happened in the past.

“It sure seems like there have been a lot of good plans for the area, but then they get discussed for so long that the result is nothing,” said David Addington, who owns

The Warfield building and tried to push through a digital-billboard idea for the area only to see it quashed by voters. “Any good idea that gets beaten around long enough becomes mush.”

Mush may not be an apt description for the blocks of boarded-up storefronts, cheap-clothing stores and fast-food outlets that populate the neighborhood, but the sense of empty desperation along the six-block corridor is palpable. It’s not so much that mid-Market is the land that time forgot; it’s the space that everyone sadly remembers.

It shouldn’t be that way. Lodged between The City’s most active retail area, around Fifth and Market streets with the Gap and Bloomingdale’s serving as eastern focal points, and Van Ness Avenue, one of San Francisco’s busiest transportation corridors and the Civic Center hub, mid-Market should be prime central for splashy development plans.

But as with so many building projects in San Francisco, development proposals for the area have been buffeted by the swirling political winds that vanquish progress and solidify the status quo, even when the norm is grime and seediness.

Nearly one-third of all the storefronts in the mid-Market area are vacant. The United Nations Plaza remains a haven for the homeless. The drug dealing in the area is openly blatant, and the general atmosphere is far from comfortable.

And that’s just during the day. Nights are worse.

Newsom has pledged to attempt to bring life back to mid-Market by turning it into an active arts center, helping organizations settle there through an $11.5 million loan program. And given that two of San Francisco’s main theaters are located there, that seems to make sense — as much as anything else proposed for the area in recent years.

“This is the first time in my experience that somebody has pounded their fist and said, ‘Let’s fix this,’” said Carolyn Diamond, executive director of the Market Street Association, a business advocacy group. “Let’s face it, fixing mid-Market has never been a sexy issue. What would you rather work on, building a new ballpark or developing this?”

The hope is that the development of Trinity Plaza, a major residential and retail complex at Eighth and Market streets, will add some much-needed flair to the district. Addington is converting The War­field building into condos, another attempt to get people to invest in the future of the area.

One thing is certain: Just because the area is close to the Tenderloin doesn’t mean it has to be an extension of the neighborhood.

Advocates who resist change over some feckless cry of gentrification don’t seem to understand that keeping the area as it is will just kill any chance of revival. The area needs new businesses, new ideas and new blood.

Anyone who knows San Francisco history knows it has a chance. Generations of city residents used to dress up to head to Market Street when it was considered an attractive, thriving retail boulevard.

After 40 years of starts and stops, it’s still a few blocks short of a renaissance. But it only takes a few bold strokes to change a landscape. Maybe Blick’s will provide the canvas.

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