Road closure kicks off Mint Plaza project

Starting today, drivers will no longer be allowed on a portion of Jessie Street near the Old U.S. Mint in downtown San Francisco, as work begins to turn the roadway into a pedestrian-only space for outside dining, music festivals and farmers markets.

The San Francisco-based Martin Building Co. has been working for two years to develop the 290-foot-long stretch of Jessie between Mint and Fifth streets into a European-style piazza called the Mint Plaza.

As part of the plan, Jessie will be closed to vehicle traffic. Construction on the Mint Plaza will begin next week, and the plan is to open the new 18,000-square-foot public space in September.

“It’s a pretty beat-up street. There’s not a single tree,” said Michael Yarne, director of development at Martin Building Co., which owns four of the nearby buildings. “Our goal above everything else is to bring a lot of people there — from residents in the area to employees and visitors — for it to have a true public life there.”

Despite complaints from a few large-scale neighboring businesses, which stand to lose valet-parking routes when Jessie Street is closed, the Board of Supervisors approved the project in April.

Martin Building Co. is paying for the $3.5 million plaza through a special property-tax assessment — called a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District — on the four historic buildings the company owns along Mint Street, two of which have been rehabilitated into market-rate housing units.

This fall, when construction is complete, Martin Building Co. plans to donate the plaza to The City. A newly established nonprofit, Friends of the Mint Plaza, will raise funds for the lifelong maintenance of the space by charging organizations that want to rent it.

Once it opens for business, the edges of Mint Plaza will be lined by up to six cafes. The cafes will have outdoor seating balanced by green-design principles and landscaping.

The plan is to host farmers markets, art exhibits and music and film festivals in the plaza, which is being designed to complement the surrounding National Historic Landmark buildings, including the old Haas Candy Factory, the former San Francisco Firehouse No. 1 and the Hales department store warehouse. The Old U.S. Mint, which broke ground in 1869, is slated to reopen to the public in 2011.

“Our vision for Mint Plaza focuses on carefully preserving the wonderful attributes that already exist while creating an energized urban living room that will serve both the immediate neighborhood and the entire city,” said Patrick McNerney, founder and president of Martin Building Co.

arocha@examiner.com

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