Ingleside Development Plan Conjures the Ghost of a Project Past

Chris Arnold

Plans for a large mixed-use complex in San Francisco’s Ingleside District beg the question of whether planners can avoid the problems that have plagued a similar project that was built a few blocks away during the early 1980s.

The new project, at the site of a former Kragen Auto Parts store near City College, would feature 173 housing units and retail space, including a 26,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, the first new Ingleside District supermarket in decades. Ironically, a supermarket had been located in the same site prior to the Kragen, but shut down.

The Kragen site project represents a key part of the far-reaching Balboa Park Station Area Plan. The $65 million redevelopment project covers much of the Ocean Avenue corridor, from the old Muni barn at San Jose Avenue to Manor Drive, more than a half-mile to the west.

City planners are confident the larger Balboa plan will give a significant boost to the Ingleside, which has already benefited from a new library branch and a classroom building built through a collaboration of San Francisco State and City College.

In concept, the mixed-use facility on the Kragen site bears striking similarities to the Dorado Terrace project built on Ocean Avenue nearly 30 years ago. Dorado Terrace had a sprawling Safeway and other retail space located below the residential development.

To be sure, the site near City College has more foot traffic than the Dorado site. Throngs of students pass through the area every day. The library, an upgraded transit hub, and other improvements also should attract more shoppers. Nearby merchants are both hopeful, though cautious.

“I am a little optimistic if there will be increased traffic. But I’ll have mixed feelings if a coffee shop is included,” said Shirley Liu, owner of the Java Creperie, directly across the street from the Kragen site.

Ice Tubigan, who works at nearby Beep’s Burgers, thinks her restaurant will benefit “by having more people nearby.”

In a decade of planning, neighborhood residents have consistently called for a supermarket at the site, according to Meg Spriggs of Avalon Bay, the developer for the site. Whole Foods signed a lease for the site in July, according to spokesman Jennifer Marples.

However, the mixed-use building itself – the commercial heart of the overall project – still conjures up the specter of the boarded up storefronts at Dorado, which also once had hopes of revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.

Empty Storefronts
Today, there are scores of housing units at Dorado Terrace. But the 54,000-square-foot Safeway closed within a couple of years of its grand opening. That space was later subdivided, with a 24-hour Fitness center took over about two-thirds of the space and a Rite-Aid pharmacy occupying a 17,000-square-foot corner location. Then the Rite-Aid closed in May 2009, after Walgreen’s bought the chain, and the shuttered storefront has been vacant ever since.

A once-thriving Blockbuster Video store across the street and a one-time UPS store are also boarded up. Together, those two stores account for another 17,000 square feet of empty retail space, for a total of 34,000 – close to the size of the retail space being added at the Kragen site.

There has been some interest in both the former Safeway and Blockbuster sites, according to David Blatteis, principal of Blatteis Real Estate, but both are plagued by “baggage” because their prior leases were signed when rental rates were much higher. The Blockbuster store would require up to $2 million in renovations because of its “antiquated” layout, he said.

A Bank of America branch near the Dorado project – which had been the only neighborhood bank – closed in March 1997. Other nearby businesses have been struggling for years, despite periodic upgrades to Muni service to the neighborhood.

Ocean Avenue merchants came together this year in an effort to form a special business district, with hopes of attracting more customers into the area, which has been plagued by street crime and graffiti.

Problems Predicted
Despite a generally upbeat tone, the Balboa Park Plan itself, published in October 2008, raised other questions about the new mixed-use project. One is parking. Parking is already very tight in the area when college is in session, and it is likely to become tighter with the planned retail development.

Residents, commuters, shoppers and students will be vying for the parking spaces that the retailers would like to keep available for more customers.

The plan discusses several proposals, including parking in an adjacent city-owned reservoir, tailoring a parking permit program to suit the needs of the revitalized area and having employees park in locations blocks away.

Another issue raised in the study is that additional traffic will contribute to the bottleneck that already occurs at Phelan and Ocean – a block from the multiuse development. Although the area is served by BART, light rail and includes a Muni bus transfer point, a steady flow of cars and trucks from nearby I-280 bring heavy traffic into the area, particularly when City College is in session.

There are brief references to improving traffic flow in the area in both the plan and environmental impact report but no plan for widening the road, aside from adding a bike lane that that could further reduce the width of roadway available for cars.

The EIR discusses long-term plans for the Balboa project to include up to 1,780 new residential units by 2025 under a new zoning level called Neighborhood Commercial Transit, or NC-T. The idea is to put houses near transit, though more homeowners will also bring more cars into the area.

For its part, Whole Foods remains confident, with its new store currently scheduled to open by mid-2013.

“The developer built the site with Whole Foods Market in mind. We like it because it’s a multi-use site with other stores and condos,” said Marples. “It’s a great location.”

Chris Arnold is a citizen reporter for who lives in the Ingleside.