Dogpatch, SF’s Latest Boomtown Neighborhood, Shedding Scruffy Past

By J.K. Dineen
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With new restaurants or galleries opening seemingly every week, “Dogpatch” is San Francisco’s fastest-growing neighborhood, with a population set to jump to about 8,000 by 2025 — up from 2,000 in 2015.

San Francisco Chronicle

The influx of new residents in Dogpatch has been good for foot traffic at Industrious Life, a home decor store on Tennessee Street in San Francisco.

But co-owner Patti Davidson bristles just a bit when she hears browsers refer to the neighborhood as the city’s “new” arts and design district.

That’s because cheap rents and plentiful warehouse space have been drawing artists and makers to the funky neighborhood for at least 30 years.

“Everyone talks about Dogpatch like it’s the cool new neighborhood, but in fact it’s always been cool,” said Davidson, who has worked and hung out at artist spaces in the neighborhood off and on since the 1980s. “There were more artists here when it was off the radar.”

Like it or not, longtime Dogpatch folks can’t ignore the fact that their beloved neighborhood is very much on the radar now. With new restaurants or galleries opening seemingly every week, Dogpatch is the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood, with a population set to jump to about 8,000 by 2025 — up from 2,000 in 2015 — as huge developments at Pier 70 and the old Potrero Power Plant join the area’s shiny housing complexes.

In the past three months alone, three developments with a total of 700 housing units have opened in Dogpatch.

An additional 1,500 units are set to pop up in the next few years as new buildings rise throughout the flat, sunny, 141-acre rectangle sandwiched between the Central Waterfront and Interstate 280.

Tennessee Street alone, which is home to both the San Francisco chapter of the Hells Angels and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, will see seven new developments totaling 663 units along its 11-block length. Two blocks over, Indiana Street will have 493 new apartments in three developments. And four complexes with 400 units will materialize along Third Street, the main commercial drag, where the T-Third Street Muni cars lurch north toward Mission Bay and south toward the Bayview.

Meanwhile, UCSF has started building 610 units on the 600 block of Minnesota Street that will house graduate students and researchers starting in 2019.

What is unusual about the spurt of development in Dogpatch is that many people seem to be enjoying the drastic transformation instead of fighting it, say residents and builders alike.

Dogpatch Neighborhood Association President Bruce Huie said the new investment is forcing city agencies to focus on improving a mostly industrial patchwork that, in many places, has lacked even basics like sidewalks and streetlights.

“We welcome all the newbies because it’s bringing a targeted focus on city services,” Huie said. “It sheds a spotlight on what we don’t have. The only way we are going to get more services is to get more people.”

Mayor Ed Lee’s Fix-It Team, which focuses on quality of life issues such as trash and potholes, has recently helped remove tent encampments from the north end of Dogpatch while steering the homeless into the city’s new Navigation Centers. Last weekend, neighbors planted 67 trees. “I personally put in 10 olive trees along Pennsylvania Street,” Huie said.

The plantings were paid for through the Green Benefit Districts program started five years ago by developer Michael Yarne of Build Inc., which recently completed O&M Dogpatch, a 116-unit development at 650 Indiana St.

The program levies a voluntary tax on developers and uses the money to improve and maintain public open spaces throughout the neighborhood. So far every developer has agreed to pay into the district, which has smoothed the approval process.

“It’s a beautifully proportionate relationship,” Yarne said. “The capacity of the Green Benefit Districts to do good work grows precisely in unison with the number of new units and new people.”

The districts now help maintain 14 open spaces, said director Julie Christensen. They are a mishmash of old railroad spurs, former Caltrans storage yards, Muni-owned surplus lots and even freeway underpasses.

Dogpatch is unusual in that it has several “stub” streets that used to climb up to Potrero Hill but were cut off when Interstate 280 was built in the 1960s.

Over the years, residents have converted many of these orphaned bits of land to community gardens or dog parks, and the benefit districts are improving them with retaining walls, irrigation systems, tree maintenance, seating areas and plantings.

One Caltrans property has been turned into a bocce court with a swing and fitness equipment. “There are little parcels like that all over the place in Dogpatch,” Christensen said. “I call it the Wild East.”

The new Dogpatch Arts Plaza, an 8,000-square-foot outdoor space at the foot of 19th Street, attracts crowds with evening concerts and impromptu jam sessions. A cafe under construction at 650 Indiana St. will eventually open onto the plaza. On the other side of the plaza is a construction equipment rental business, which uses part of the open space for loading during weekday business hours.

Yarne called Dogpatch “the most open and evolving neighborhood in the city.”

“Dogpatch is this rich, historic, pre-existing neighborhood that is allowing a lot of change,” he said. “That’s pretty unusual for San Francisco.”

There is no doubt that the wave of development is slowly replacing the blue-collar businesses that have existed alongside artist-occupied warehouses and artisan workshops for decades.

O&M Dogpatch replaced a warehouse and the Cafe Cocomo nightclub, a popular dance club that was the scene of a fatal shooting in 2005.

The Avalon Dogpatch development at 800 Indiana St. replaced a warehouse that the San Francisco Opera used for set building and storage. Other projects are going up on land that was previously home to printers and auto repair shops.

While Dogpatch development has not sparked the kind of battles seen in the Mission District or even adjacent Potrero Hill, there are concerns that the new housing will lead to traffic gridlock, crowded buses and further displacement.

Some residents and business owners worry that the high cost and small footprint of the new rental developments will attract primarily younger professionals who won’t live there long enough to appreciate, or contribute to, the culture and history of the neighborhood.

“I do hear stories,” said Davidson, who runs the home-decor shop. “People come in and say, ‘It’s so much money, but there isn’t enough space.’ ”

The new units are not cheap. One-bedroom units at the Avalon Dogpatch start at $3,255 a month. At Abaca, a 259-unit development at 2660 Third St., it’s $3,050.

But the fact that three projects opened simultaneously means it’s a renters market. Avalon Dogpatch is offering $125 off a month and other incentives. Abaca is doing four to six weeks free on some units.

Beyond the new housing, the most dramatic catalyst for change has been the Minnesota Street Project, a collection of art galleries and studio spaces spread across 100,000 square feet in three buildings at 1240 and 1275 Minnesota St., as well as at 1150 25th St. The complex includes permanent studio spaces for 35 artists and shared spaces for an additional 25.

On three days in mid-October, more than 3,000 people lined up around the block to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” a depiction of Jesus that Christie’s auction house put on public display in San Francisco with the hope of enticing a wealthy tech entrepreneur to bid on the painting, which is worth an estimated $100 million.

“It was secret,” said Francesca Sonara, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Street Project. “We didn’t even promote it until the week it went up.”

The Minnesota Street Project, which opened in March 2016, drew 10,000 people to an art book fair in July, about 3,000 more than the first year it was held. Openings held on Saturdays regularly draw 1,000.

While most of the early development has been on the southern end of Dogpatch, the Minnesota Street Project is pulling more visitors and investors to the northern end, said Eric Tao, a partner with AGI, which developed Abaca.

“The crazy thing about Dogpatch is this is only the beginning,” he said.

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