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SoMa: Jewel At The Heart Of S.F.’s Recovery

With major mixed-use projects underway geared toward supplying affordable housing and yielding a vibrant neighborhood, San Francisco’s South of Market is set up to be ground zero for the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout from which sent multifamily and office rates sharply downward.

The foundation for this began in 2018 with the planning commission’s approval of the Central SoMa Plan, a zoning framework that guides development for the area on S.F.’s eastern side. The plan captured interest by developers eyeing major mixed-use project opportunities for the area and weaved those proposals into a fabric of robust community benefits and spaces.


"I'm very optimistic because I think the Central SoMa [Plan] has paved the way for investment in SoMa,” Ankrom Moisan Managing Principal Travis Throckmorton said at a Bisnow webinar on the future of SoMa on March 18. “The developers that we're working with really recognize that there is a cultural district there, that there is a history to SoMa. And when you work with organizations like Soma Pilipinas or you work with some of the other Filipino organizations, cultural organizations — now you get community buy-in, you start to hear from the stakeholders, and the developments end up becoming something that benefits the community, and the investment turns out to be powerful.”

At full build-out, the zoning plan is expected to yield almost 16M SF of new housing and commercial, over $2B put toward public benefits such as cultural preservation and community services, 33% affordable housing units, $500M for transit infrastructure and new publicly accessible open space and streetscape improvements.

Much of the work has begun. The 5M project on a 4-acre site near Fifth Street and Mission Street by developer Brookfield Properties has construction underway on Phase I delivering 640K SF of rentable commercial office in a tower called 415 Natoma and 302 apartments at a residential tower called 434 Minna set to open this year. 5M includes a total of over 850 residences, including hundreds of on-site designated affordable units.

“We're building for San Francisco from now until in perpetuity, and we strongly believe that there is a place for excellent Class-A office towers in SoMa that have the type of wellness, the type of environmental standards that we have,” Brookfield Properties Mixed-Use Development Director Swathi Bonda said during the webinar. “We have an abundance of outdoor terrace space distributed all throughout the building that really allows for outdoor congregation and work that I think is going to be a hallmark of our working environment moving forward.”

Preservation of the historic S.F. Flower Mart serves as a backdrop to plans by Kilroy Realty Corp. to build 2.3M SF of office on 7 acres at Fifth and Brannan streets. The project was approved in January 2020 and includes about 75K SF of retail, an acre of programmable open space and a new home for the Flower Mart in nearby Potrero Hill, according to Kilroy Realty Development Director Alexandra Stoelzle. 

Bisnow's The Future Of SoMa Webinar on March 18.

“With such as large site, we view it kind of as a jewel box at the center of the neighborhood,” Stoelzle said. “We have a large European-style market hall, and we're looking forward to our neighboring projects, current residents and visitors to be able to utilize all the new space at the Flower Mart site.”

Stoelzle also pointed out that a critical asset to the future success of SoMa is a transit-rich environment to be bolstered by the completion of the Central Subway project that will extend the Muni Metro T Third Line through SoMa, Union Square and Chinatown. The project is currently under construction and is expected to be complete in spring 2022.

"We're bullish on SoMa,” Throckmorton said. “We feel that the investment will come, the Central SoMa Plan has created the framework, and we believe that … as a center for jobs and transportation and homes, SoMa is a great place.”

The sentiment that the market will make a strong recovery was echoed during the webinar by Housing Action Coalition Executive Director Todd David. He emphasized the need to keep steadily building multifamily units at all affordability levels. David also cited the importance of the city’s eastern side, including SoMa, where the zoning code allows for higher density housing, and he advocated for that to be replicated in the westside neighborhoods.

“We are very bullish on the urban centers of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose,” David said. “We think people are going to be coming back in droves sooner rather than later.”

Related California Senior Vice President Jonathan Shum added that though S.F.’s lack of adequate housing supply is a historical issue, it really encompasses the entire Bay Area and the problem should also be addressed on a regional level.

Given that sufficient transportation infrastructure and housing are two crucial areas of improvement for S.F., the significant amount of development headed to SoMa under the Central SoMa plan makes the neighborhood poised to absorb what some expect to be a rapid influx of population over the next couple of years. After a “very isolating, strange year,” there are already signs of increased foot traffic and interest in SoMa, Bonda said.

“We're craving collaborative work environments, we're craving integrated intergenerational public open spaces, excellent dining and retail experiences, and are really thinking about what it means to be in a home and what type of city we want that home to be in,” Bonda said.