Japantown Roji scheme (Image Source: nichibeitimes.com)

You had a chance to see the designs for redeveloping San Francisco’s Japantown Center unveiled in person (and provide your input). And a reader even provided a down and dirty overview for those who couldn’t attend. But no need to fret if you missed either, the Nichi Bei Times unveils all:

Japantown Baseline Scheme (Image Source: nichibeitimes.com)

Baseline scheme: Incorporate existing retail, and turn the mall inside-out while adding 73 residential units above.

Japantown Torii Scheme (Image Source: nichibeitimes.com)

Torii scheme: Overhead retail across the top of the Peace Plaza looking towards the south.

Japantown Roji Scheme (Image Source: nichibeitimes.com)

Roji scheme: Traditional alleyways with internal shopping streets and the opening up of the malls.

Japantown Hiroba Scheme (Image Source: nichibeitimes.com)

Hiroba scheme: “Redistributing” the Peace Plaza with a series of interlocking plazas, moving the Pagoda from the Geary Boulevard side of the current Peace Plaza to alongside Post Street, with retail facing Geary.

29 thoughts on “The 4 Design Concepts For The Future Of San Francisco’s Japantown”
  1. I’m going with Roji – If the retail faces inward with pedestrian traffic walking throughout that would create a nice shopping feel… plus the open air concept is nice for visitors and shoppers alike.
    Hiroba doesn’t make sense because there is no need to have the retail face Geary, its not a pedestrian street.
    Torii is too isolated – works in places like Chicago where the weather is awful – but since we have a nice climate, there is no need to go this direction. Baseline gets the same response as the Hiroba – there isn’t a benefit to having retail face outward. Not when you are looking to draw visitor in. Which is the whole point of a project like this.

  2. Wow, this is so good that they are redevloping this tired area. Going to make Lower Pac Heights and Pac Heights more desirable, and do well for properties nearby. Forbes had an article that highlighted SF as the #2 most UNDERVALUED city in America, with Lower Pac Heights as the key undervalued area.

  3. “Forbes had an article that highlighted SF as the #2 most UNDERVALUED city in America, with Lower Pac Heights as the key undervalued area.”
    Undervalued in what sense? Do you have a link to said article?

  4. I bought right around the corner in the 15 story Eichler building about 1.5 years ago so I’m very excited about these changes . . . now, if they could only remodel the “Ghetto Safeway” I would be a happy camper/shopper.

  5. The Forbes article RT mentions does not list SF as an undervalued city. Specifically, it mentions lower Pac Heights as being undervalued vs. nearby real estate in the city. Here’s that link:
    Now here’s a link to another Forbes article where we’re ranked the 4th most overpriced market in the country:
    I think we also make the vainest cities list as well as best for singles and most expensive gas.

  6. “I bought right around the corner in the 15 story Eichler building about 1.5 years ago so I’m very excited about these changes . . . now, if they could only remodel the “Ghetto Safeway” I would be a happy camper/shopper.”
    Mark – Safeway is redesigning its space/lots or something. They sent out a community notice for input a few mos ago. If you have time/interest – contact them. The Safeway is gross – and its offerings are meager in comparison to other Safeways. That combined with a very loud new advertising campaign while you’re shopping makes for a wholly unnerving and unpleasant experience. Unfortunately this is a last resort store.

  7. Guess what “NewYorker”, EVERYWHERE in the U.S. is cheaper than New York! And as for your job in “finance”, glad you found one here in S.F., because we long ago sent most of our finance jobs to Southern California and of all places Charlotte.
    Now, maybe I am putting on a tin foil hat, but is the current unstable situation in the real estate market causing more and more to post here claiming what a “bargain” we are, and posting articles that say we are “under-valued” , when in fact the article talks about one small section of the city, and the same publication writes that in general we are way over valued. Hold on “New Yorker”, if you think it is cheap here now, just wait another 6 months.

  8. I’m going with Roji as well. Like the open design and reminds me the most of Japan.
    Agree that Geary is not a pedestrian street and shouldn’t have retail facing it, but I do hope they don’t just wall it off similar to the current design. Windows into the shops and restaurants would draw people off of Geary and into the plaza. Hmm…maybe even a big Starbucks overlooking the street like in Shibuya!

  9. NewYorker,
    I’m a recovering New Yorker, born and bred (even college there). Worked on Wall Street for years.
    Two points: if your peers all make the same $$ here as in NYC, get some new peers! Pay is MUCH lower here. It’s not even close. Compare a 28-year old FX trader from BS with one in SF – oops! Not too much of an FX market here. How about a credit derivatives desk dealer – double oops!! – what do you mean there aren’t any in SF?? OK, what about a primary treasuries guy – what, not that? Get the picture?
    Second, rents, especially for nice single family homes, are MUCH lower relative to purchasing than in NYC and its environs. That’s because Clownifornia has this great thing called Prop 13, which prevents taxes from rising until the property is sold (basically – it allows a 2% increase or so, but for all practical purposes it freezes the taxes).
    Go down a street with a row of $2 million houses. You’ll notice that one or two appear to be vacant, and another one or two will have unkempt back yards – those are the rental properties. Now go look up the tax records – you’ll be amazed. One house will be paying $4000 in property tax. Another (recent) bagholder is assessed $24,000. At least one or two will be assessed at LESS than $1,000. The guy who owns the house with the $4,000 assessment – you know what? – his kids grew up and so he moved to a nicer suburb where he doesn’t have to deal with the SF public school system. But he’ll keep the house, because later he can grandfather the tax base, and pass it to his kids at the low rate! But $4K is still something, might as well rent it, right? House paid for, taxes low, why not rent it out at, say, $3K per month to a nice family who wil take care of the place? That’s how it works here.
    It gets better. The vacant house or two – the taxes are $500 or $1000 per year? House paid for, taxes are nothing, eal estate only goes up anyway, why not just leave it vacant? That’s the great thing about Clownifornia versus NYC. Shhhh. Nobody told them about opportunity cost!
    It’s amazing. Even after you show them a spreadsheet showing in black and white how much you save renting versus buying, they just give you this quizzical look. Reminds me of the old line, where the wife comes home, finds her husband in bed with another woman.
    Husband just looks calmly at his wife, denies the other woman is there, and asks, “Now who are you going to believe. Me? Or your lying eyes?” The wife thinks it over, and gives the husband a quizzical look.
    Just some observations. Welcome to SF!! It’s really a great place and it does grow on you. But it can be ….um, unsettling … for a New Yorker.

  10. I prefer the Hiroba, it has a very feng shui quality about it. The effect of the undulating paths and shapes of the buildings would create a nice, natural effect, and actually create more walking space because of the shape. I disagree with relocating the pagoda though. I’m all for adding residential units above too, but that midrise ‘tower’ is pitiful. Hope the Post Street tower gets built.

  11. This is very exciting.. but I can’t imagine any work will start until, when, 2015 with an expected completion date by 2025? lol..
    What’s funny is that I thought I was the only person that called it “Ghetto Safeway.” I remember the last time I went in there, I thought, “What could possibly happen?” Well, a rather horrifying and violent arrest with some scary ass undercover cops – that’s what could happen.

  12. I disagree on the post regarding no retail necessary on Geary! Justin Hermann did the entire area a major injustice with Geary Blvd and the best way to correct is to bring the street back to life and opening the Japantown Center to the boulevard will do wonders. As will adding more housing above the shops. And bring on the mid-rise.

  13. The Roji scheme looks great, and has a very authentic feel. This is extremely important because this kind of streetscape and mixed development is one of Japan’s many unique cultural elements. The Hiroba scheme is nifty, but it seems forced as if the buildings are being squeezed into an artificial shape that might not even be a best match for viewing and walking. The option of using the roof for retail seems like a mistake.

  14. Baseline is lipstick on a pig while Torri is just another pig.
    I liked the curved alleyways of Hiroba and the multiple openings to the plaza/alleyways, but I do wonder about the viability of retail along Geary. A bunch of empty storefronts might look even worse than what’s there today.
    Of these four, Roji.

    Primarily because the history surrounding WWII, most adults educated in America have a blind-spot of sorts when it comes to Japan. I – a ‘boomer’ raised in Illinois – am no exception. That said, I have had the good fortune to visit Japan on multiple occasions and have developed an appreciation of Japan, it’s people and culture.
    I have no doubt the Japanese community (recognizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it sees one) has its best and brightest working on the task of creating a showcase Japanese-centric community on the site of the obsolete ‘JapanCenter’
    With some of the finest design talent anywhere, the Japanese community ought to be permitted to create a new JapanTown of its own liking with a absolute minimum of outside interference.
    This is NOT a typical development project. Addressing even The City’s most ‘well intentioned’ bureaucratic barriers will almost certainly end up compromising the project’s cultural details; resulting in a finished product that is less interesting and less culturally significant.
    The City should make a demonstration of goodwill by agreeing to stand aside.. adopting – as much as it is legally possible – a hands off policy toward the JapanTown re-build.
    Not only would such a gesture be good PR/politics, it would also encourage additional investments by the Japanese-American community into the JapanTown project as well as areas surrounding it.. investment that largely now goes elsewhere in the Bay Area.
    Sure there’s gotta be a few caveats. Requiring the new JapanTown face Geary should be one of them.
    A Geary-facing JapanTown might be the catalyst that prompts the long overdue re-making of Geary (from Van Ness to about Collins) into a REAL boulevard…something really BEAUTIFUL. Beautiful to look at AND to DRIVE on (and without creeepy BRT bus lanes, for godzakes!)
    How many billions (with a B) in private investment is required before City Hall steps up and re-makes Geary into the kind of thoroughfare that the institutions along it would opt to face!
    Current and planned private investment along Geary is absolutely incredible. $4+ billion.
    (Off the top of my head: a new $2.4B CPMC, a $400M condo tower, a Kaiser Permanente expansion, $100s of Millions rejuvenating “The Fillmore’, a multi-multi million dollar plan to re-make the Masonic Retail Center… and oh, a new JapanTown complex)
    With the possible exception of New Orleans, I can’t think of any place where local Government wouldn’t GLADLY participate in a multi-billion dollar private investment program within its jurisdiction by upgrading nearby dilapidated public facilities for which it is solely responsible. Boggles the mind…

  16. I’m interested in the housing units projected. Are they meant to be rentals? Sales? A mix? The area has a lot of low income housing in it (and I’d love to see more affordable units on the market but that’s because I can’t afford anything market rate); I just hate the idea of more 800K plus condos rising to the sky. Who gets to live in those? Not me, obviously: I’m just a teacher with a side job writing for Redfin. Not anyone I work with at SF State. No cops I know or firefighters. No service industry workers (at least not those providing legal services)…
    This has become a rant. I reassert then my original question: Does anyone have any insight on the specific plans — beyond number of units– for the housing?

  17. Sonofsoma
    The relatively old and conservative (and small) remaining Japanese American community in J-town is suspicious of this development and will prefer the most conservative and least disruptive option. If they had their choice they would keep the mall and be left alone. Further they are not up on the latest design trends from Japan.
    It should be noted that few Nisei Sansei live anywhere near to here anymore. A very large percentage are married to whites and other Asians and live in the suburbs. Japanese Americans are the most assimilated Asian group as many are 3rd generation and beyond. The old people are passing away and many of the old businesses have proprietors who are near retirement. Japanese Americans are about as likely to invest here as I am to open an Irish bar where my ancestors lived SOMA.
    If anything the bureaucratic involvement is the only thing keeping this from becoming another part of upper Fillmore with luxury condos and boutiques. I appreciate your view that the community should control this and I agree but you might be disappointed with the outcome

  18. “Safeway is redesigning its space/lots or something. They sent out a community notice for input a few mos ago. If you have time/interest – contact them.”
    Thanks Invented. Strange, I live one block from Safeway and I never got this notice and I’ve never heard anyone in the neighborhood talk about it. I’ve sent 3 e-mails to Safeway asking when they are planning on updating the Safeway to their new “Lifestyle” concept. I got responses on all 3 indicating they were forwarded to their construction department but I never heard back from them.

  19. zig, very good and concise summary of the political/sociological issues around redevelopment of Japantown. Keeping a japanese-themed mall alive is indeed difficult given the demographic reality.
    That said, I sure hope the future mall can keep some authentic Japanese flavor. It’s going to be tough. We could end up with a mall with a better (and more authentically “japanese”) design than the blight that is there now, but with relatively few Japanese American business tenants.
    But this is a reality that we will have to live with.

  20. The unSafeway needs to go or get a serious makeover. The parking lot is too big and always dirty. The worst is the hustler selling CD’s and Nike’s from the back of his car (hopefully that’s all he’s selling).

  21. The safeway needs updating but it can’t go. The neighborhood needs a supermarket (and hopefully not an overpriced whole foods trying to sell expensive ready made food to the new owners at the fillmore heritage).
    As for the japancenter, retail facing geary would be good, if they ever put a light rail line down Geary. This street needs a subway/light rail, the 38 Geary is too crowded.

  22. I agree, we need the Safeway in this ‘hood, but it needs a major update to the store and the parking lot. Regarding Geary, BRT (bus rapid transit) is planned for it in the future so having retail facing Geary would fit in with the changes they want to make along this stretch.

  23. Second that Zig. Having just been to Japan for the first time earlier this year it made me realize that the people running Japan Town have far more in common with typical American Suburbanites then they do with modern Japanese.
    The older Japanese who still live in the ‘hood would probably prefer nothing to change. But, I would guess that most of the those in charge, shop owners, JTown task force, etc, live in the burbs and drive to JTown.
    I would Love Love Love to see it become something very influenced by modern Japan.

  24. 1. BRG. Ugh. Rezone Geary (denser) to Point Lobos, let developers participate in UNDERGROUNDING transit and let’s say NO to transit which is ugly and doesn’t whisk you to your location. No one wants to look @ more and faster buses. We want taller buildings (even if only 2/3 stories higher, planted medians with safe curbed bike lanes and, wider sidewalks to accommodate engaging pedestrian life. Why is everyone settling? Re-zone & engage private money. NO to trendy (and short-sighted) surface transit
    Geary is an unparalleled opportunity for a civilized boulevard to the sea — a unique lifeline to the Pacific. Rezone/reinvent. Does Planning have ANY vision for Geary?
    2. Satchel: Pssst. we’re all New Yorkers.
    3. Japantown: All options need more housing. There isn’t critical mass to support sustaining retail (other than tourist eateries) nor cm for the vision of weaving together neighborhoods. All the moreso in a transit-rich intersection as Geary & Fillmore. This is yet another example of SF underbuilding.

  25. Invented
    Who is the “we” you are referring to?
    “We want taller buildings”
    I’m with you but apparently by the looks of community input and the people we elect we are the minority
    I think the chance for subway on Geary is close to nil in the coming 2-3 decades. It died with the central subway

  26. haha.. i was dying reading this thread about the “ghetto safeway.” we call it that too and it is truly an adventure when grocery shopping. that entire shopping complex needs to be cleaned up!

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