2 Henry Adams - San Francisco Design Center

Supervisor Cohen has formally introduced legislation which could effectively block the conversion of the San Francisco Design Center at 2 Henry Adams Street from showrooms into tech space for at least 18 months.

The Design Center is currently zoned for Production, Distribution & Repair (PDR), a zoning which disallows general office use.  And a key objective of San Francisco’s recently adopted Showplace Square/Potrero Hill Area Plan is to specifically preserve the supply of PDR space within the district and city.

But as we first reported last year, there is a landmark loophole which the owners of the building have been planning to exploit.

In an attempt to ensure the economic viability of historically significant buildings which might not otherwise have a productive use, so to speak, the aforementioned Area Plan also provides an exception for the conversion of landmarked buildings to office use. And as such, the owners of 2 Henry Adams have been seeking a Landmark Designation for the building which was built in 1915 for the Dunham, Carrigan & Hayden Company, a wholesale steel and hardware importer/distributor.

While San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission has approved the landmark designation for the Design Center building, the designation has not yet been approved by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.  The Board’s vote, however, seemed a formality.

With Pinterest having since been revealed as the tenant to takeover much of the building once the designation is complete, a move which would displace many of the existing Design Center tenants, Supervisor Cohen has just introduced legislation which could block the building’s conversion, landmark or not, for 18-months by imposing interim zoning controls and requiring a reassessment of the Area Plan’s policies and priorities.

90 thoughts on “Legislation To Block Pinterest’s Move And Design Center Conversion”
  1. LOL. The BOS is such a joke. Anything to crush jobs and home-ownership and real estate development and any other form of economic progress! They desperately need to take an economics class, especially Jane Kim (claiming non-affordable housing limits are not going to affect supply? are you joking?), Avalos, Campos, and Mar. And now apparently Cohen. What is wrong with these people? Disgraceful.

    1. HOW are they “crushing jobs” in this instance?? There are already ESTABLISHED businesses that would be pushed out for some silly post-you-pics thing – geez why don’t you read before kneejerk reacting?

      1. Denying office space to one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world? How do you NOT define that as trying to crush job growth? Yet another instance of the SF BOS poking their head where it doesn’t belong. However, this is just one instance of many that has me incredulous at this BOS (8 Washington, Jane Kim’s insane anti-development law, multiple Ellis Act laws taking away the constitutional rights of property owners, and the list goes on. I actually like Supervisor Cohen and think she has been reasonable in many ways (except on this issue), but Avalos, Campos, Mar and Kim are shameful in their partisan politics. They are essentially a Democratic Tea Party, no different. They will do anything to protect “those that were here first” against newcomers. Xenophobia at its finest. No different than the Tea Party going to great lengths to limit immigration and protect the established class.

        1. And there is no office space anywhere else in the city? They just HAVE to be at this particular location?

          1. Exactly. Why do the design companies have to be in this exact location? Couldn’t they move?

          2. Space is scarce in SF. Companies shop around for space and look at options. Things are tight enough today for politicians to meddle with this.

          3. There is a severe shortage of commercial space in the city, especially large commercial spaces but San Francisco not only strictly limits the amount of new commercial space that can be approved each year (as it has since 1986), it also makes it very difficult and expensive to get approval for the limited amount of commercial space that can be approved. So, entitlements to build commercial space take years and lots of money to get, then the construction takes more time, but in the meantime, business need space.

            There are surface parking lots and parking garages (which could be replaced with buildings with underground parking) and also obsolete (non-historic) buildings in the downtown area that would be good locations for new commercial space. If the zoning laws where loosened to allow more commercial construction to occur per year, there would be more new offices built by now and Pinterest and other companies would not even be looking at locating in this building. It is not as if there is anything especially desirable about the building or the location.

      2. Seems a bit shortsighted… Just because you don’t use, or care for a business shouldn’t allow them the right to lease space where they choose in the city. Pinterest is not pushing anyone out… if the current tenant rents go up, they’ll more than likely have to leave, regardless. Realty companies, real estate speculators and legislators are the ones creating the issue, not business or potential tenants.

        If the city designation is done in good faith, for the better of the community (as opposed to just blocking a type of potential tenant) than let it be done. But there should also be equal consideration given to making sure the current tenants, or those alike, have the interest and the means to be able to stay in the city/area/building.

        This issue is much larger than blocking large sf office tenants, or historic preservation, and if we lose sight of that, we’re just chasing out tails in my opinion.

        1. As usual a lot of extreme positions here, but this isn’t a situation calling for them. My intial reaction was to be really disturbed by the proposed conversion – but apparently the building has a fairly high vacancy rate, witih a lot of design businesses downsizing (thanks to the internet) or going out of business (thanks to the recession). And apparently some design companies in the area welcome the arrival of Pinterest, which they see as design-related.

          So it’s not black and white, and to see the usual SocketSite polemics being trotted out in the first comments is really quite annoying.

          1. mea culpa. Good points, all.

            I am still skeptical about a lot of these ap sites, though. 🙂 But I am a geezer, so…

      3. SF is about change. Always has been and always will be. Disagree? If that is the case we would still have places to shoe horses. We would have still have a downtown exclusively devoted to companies working in the insurance industry, or the banking industry, or having a huge back office supply function. Those uses more or less changed over 30 years ago, B of A headquarters and tons of people moved out of the downtown and so did many others. Change comes from every quarter….look no further than Chris Daly and his support of highrise residential when he was supervisor. Those new towers will dump thousands of new and likely moderate voters into the very districts where supervisors have prided themselves on being oh so progressive. Change has and will continue to happen. You don’t want change then move to the suburbs. That is what my progressive friends tell me when i tell them about the street people tearing up our neighborhood.

  2. From what I understand there is no shortage of PDR space and the rent is reasonable. There isn’t a big economic crisis in that segment. I think people are too sensitive to the word “displacement”.

    1. Your understanding is epically misinformed. There is a massive economic crisis in the local PDR segment. There is a critical shortage of PDR space in SF, as most of it has been turned into luxury lofts and techie cubicle space. What little PDR remains, is overpriced for the returns PDR can typically expect. The lack of PDR space is why you have to pay $150/hr for auto repair, or $6 for a loaf of bread. I think you’re too sensitive to the phrase “elitist hypocrite.”

      1. I think you can panic over this kind of stuff. No…PDR is disappearing from the middle of developing residential and office neighborhoods, for sure. But to say there is a CRITCIAL SHORTAGE misses the reality that San Francisco is more than just Noe Valley or The Mission. You have never visitied Southeastern SF, have you? Not too much “luxury loft conversion” amidst the body shops and metal fabrication outfits off outer Quesada Avenue. Thousands of acres of derelict land near the hulking remnants of Candlestick Point. Not to forget the cheap space available in places like Hayward and Brisbane (pretty high vacancy rate in the lesser industrial park there…seems like every building is half empty).

  3. Seriously. We need to ensure some economic diversity and this is the place to do it. That was written into the Eastern Neighborhood Plan. Once Pinterest moves in, the other older buildings will seek landmark status, more tech will move in and the rent will be anything but reasonable. Malia is doing the right thing upholding this objective in the ENP.

    1. why do we need to ensure economic diversity in this location? I think it would be helpful to stop thinking of a city of 800,000 as a large city with a diverse economy by itself…we are part of a larger region.

    2. Then put a ballot up at the next election to amend Prop M and allow more commercial construction of large office spaces to occur where it belongs and where it can be best served by public transit and existing infrastructure–in downtown. There are plenty of parking lots and parking garages and obsolete (non-historic) buildings in the downtown and surrounding office core that could be replaced with new office buildings (with underground parking). It shouldn’t take years and tons of money to win approval for the limited amount of new commercial construction allowed each year. Pinterest and other larger companies could be downtown while this space and plenty more would be available at much lower rents (because there would be a larger supply of office space) then is now available for PDR, not-for-profits, and other uses.

  4. And some of the small design businesses there actually think that having Pinterest as an anchor tenant will be a benefit to their business. Pinterest and it’s widespread social media reach for design related matters could actually help these elite, and rather traditional small design businesses expand their foot print.

    1. The only small design businesses in the Center that are in favor of the conversion are the ones that won’t be displaced by Pinterest. Go figure.

    2. These are showrooms. I don;t think you have a clue what is currently housed in these buildings rights now.”small design businesses”??? Interior designers aren;t housed in the SFDC, showrooms are.

      1. In addition to the showrooms, there actually are a number of interior designers and architects in the building. Many are on the mezzanine level which won’t be affected in this first round apparently, but may be later. However, there are half dozen or so on 3 & 4.

      2. No bro, I know exactly the type of firms there. High end interior design firms. Sure they have show rooms, but they also do custom design of many interior home items (they are not just frickin furniture stores; they would never survive with a passive sales model.) and certainly these firms could benefit from associations with Pinterest. Get a clue before you accuse me, jack.

  5. I don’t see how a social media company is going to draw design professionals to Showplace Square. If anything it will keep them away as showrooms thin out and parking becomes more impossible than it already is.

  6. You do realize that a majority of the Design Center tenants are not struggling small businesses, right? Many of these tenants are very wealthy, expensive shops that cater to the wealthy SF type. In fact, much of the Design District is this way. There are lots of spaces throughout the Design District that these companies could easily move to and make just as much money as they’re making now.

    This isn’t a fight of mom and pop businesses vs. a large tech company. Don’t get it twisted.

    1. +1

      99% of people who complain about the loss of the Design Center have absolutely no idea what it is.

      In my opinion the Galleria building should be remodeled to fill in that ugly and useless atrium with usable space; you could easily fit most of the tenants from this building into the Galleria building if it were properly designed.

  7. What a sad situation. Discrimination against another group doesn’t make it any more right. I work in tech, so it’s sad to say that I think Pinterest should give SF the finger and bail to Oakland.

    1. I’m not sure why this isn’t the exact situation that’s happening. What’s so special about San Francisco? I mean I could see not wanting to live in the hellhole that is Silicon Valley, but Oakland? Fine place

      1. Because, sammyboy, SF is the “it” city now. No large, high visibility tech firm is seriously considering Oakland now. They all want the SF cache. But give it a few years, and that may start to happen. The Pinterest thing is just a small nudge in that direction, and depending how moronic our future mayor and bored of sups are, we may get to that stage in a few years.

  8. If it’s anything like their other market destroying laws (rental housing, formula retail, etc), the owners may respond by letting it sit vacant for 18 months.

  9. Bingo. For the most part this will hurt the Ladies Who Lunch. Regardless, what’s the end result here? Will SF subsidize the artificially low rent to preserve a sentimental use? Personally I’d love to see the design center use stay, but for no other reason than I think it’s cool. Perhaps the focus should be on closing the landmark status loophole.

          1. If Pinterest were like landlords holding rent-controlled property and they wanted to go out of business, they would have to pay all of their customers two years of the difference in value between being able to post pretty pictures of sunsets for free and nice throw rugs and not doing so.

        1. well they are bringing tons of jobs to SF and money to SF city coffers as well as to their employees (residents). they are making mid market nicer and bringing in new companies as well. Why would you have a problem with that?

          1. Any dictionary can provide for you the definition of the word “Bubble”. pets.com was a great idea, also.

        2. LOL. Come on….just because they have never turned a profit and have no idea how to earn money doesn’t mean they don’t have a business model. It’s the internet. It’s MAGIC. “My company makes an ap that turns the screen of my cell phone different colors depending on my mood. Now give me venture capital! Because everyone will pay attention to the ads that blink on the screen!”

          1. well they are bringing tons of jobs to SF and money to SF city coffers as well as to their employees (residents). they are making mid market nicer and bringing in new companies as well. Why would you have a problem with that?

  10. This is what happens when politicians who have grown up to complain about the system end up being elected with 85% of the votes. They do not know how to handle power and responsibility and most importantly they just can’t figure how you manage the City.

    Short of providing actual positive solutions, the BOS has become a useless NO machine.

    BOS vs Formula Retail
    BOS vs airbnb
    BOS vs Landlords
    BOS vs Developers
    BOS vs Pinterest

    … and the list goes on and on and on…

      1. That’s your opinion. One thing about freedom of doing business is that it is hypocritical to pick the things you like while discarding the ones you do not like. I think we must take the good AND the bad. Of course we are lucky we can cherry-pick, but we can do it because we have an exceptional situation.

        TECH is the main reason why the City can keep the lights on in SF. It is the main reason why we can afford an overbloated civil servant core. It is the main reason why politicians can parade around their anti-capitalist ideas and not be kicked out for gross mismanagement: we are a functioning wealthy city.

    1. remarkable, you actually wrote out a list of the current power players in SF (plus pinterest) and are showing the BOS to be the champion and defender of those with less and may be disenfranchised and pushed around without government representation and regulation. i’ve not seen a more succinct and positive portrayal of the BOS in a long time. thanks for the whole new perspective on the “NO machine.”

      1. Ridiculous. Let these “power players” dump SF like an old b!tchy girlfriend and see the BS and “those with less” see all their tax revenue (and the largesse afforded by such tax revenue) trickle a-la Detroit. Let the tech workers accused of gentrifying drop SF and see the 3 people they indirectly support lose their jobs. You can’t have it both ways: enjoy the fruits of Capitalism and build a People’s Republic of The Cheap Living.

        Plus why would “those with less” be entitled to housing in SF? If we have to provide housing for 100,000 of “those with less”, why not 1,000,000? What’s the criteria? Please enlighten us on who deserves cheap housing and who doesn’t. This is why they invented money. Grow up.

        1. Of course they can: look at any Northern European Social Democracy. They all have high tax rates, lots of regulation, a robust welfare state and healthy happy citizens. They also have a per capita GPD growth which rivals the United States.

          1. Not sure what you mean by “lots of regulation”. Scandinavian countries are pretty much all more market-oriented than the average US locale. The difference is that they have almost no local level regulation, which is where the US falters in many places.

            I’d gladly trade fewer SF and California laws for a set of national regulations similar to say, Denmark.

          2. Yes, and European social programs were doing fine until the “less government” nuts started this austerity idiocy. I am not denying that countries can have social programs, but that’s not the subject here. SF is not a country. It is very dependent on one industry for its growth, and probably for its economical health.

            You can be a progressive and still believe that we ave to have some balance between business and government. It cannot be all business or all government. It doesn’t work.

            Right now, we are having a very good run. A conjunction of parameters make SF one of the best places to be. Our Supervisors have NOTHING to do with this situation. They are playing like 3rd graders on a sugar rush with the great tax revenue that they have not helped grow. And now they want to restrain the companies that helped grow that tax revenue. THAT’s what I think is the hypocrisy.

  11. Good for sup Cohen. Much as I don’t like preservation as a tool this is a good move. I know what the design center is and it should be preserved as a special use. The loophole should be cut. I hope pinterest does go to Oakland. This is a region and needs and uses can be accommodated regionally. They do not have to be in sf. They are just another media company, they are a commodity. The “jobs” banner is irrelevant here. The jobs can be 10 miles away where good housing is more affordable.

    1. You can move tech companies to Oakland, but good luck in getting their employees to move with them. This is the biggest issue. Once I did an interview with a great startup in Jackson Square. The second interview happened in Lake Merritt where they were moving. No thanks. You can’t walk or cycle to that place from where I lived.

  12. rights of property owners, and the list goes on.

    BOS vs Pinterest
    … and the list goes on and on and on…

    Do you think we could have fewer stock phrases on socketsite?

      1. honestly, as a designer, showrooms are VERY important – you cannot see and feel the true qualities of products on the internet…. the way light hits them dramatically affects the perception of the materials and furniture in a space. How they feel to touch can have a major impact to whether or not you want that material/piece in your home or office. Sometimes the most beautiful pieces of furniture seen on the internet are the least comfortable in person . . . how could I even dare to specify a $10,000 couch, then have it arrive to my client’s house and they think it is the least comfortable thing they’ve ever sat on? I would have to fly to a different city in order to be able to test the couch before I could feel comfortable specifying it. It is not only designers in San Francisco that utilize the services of the design center. People venture from all around the Bay Area in order to see certain products in person, or obtain samples of flooring, wall-covering, etc.

        This area of the city has been the design district for many, many years – it gives the ability to professionals to walk their clients around to a plethora of stores all in one day, rather than traversing all throughout the city. It would be a shame to lose that quality.

        1. Yes, there’s nothing like seeing and using the product in person. If SF real estate continues to rise this experience might end up moving elsewhere. Showrooms will still always be popular but the trip might become longer

  13. Normally I would agree with everything negative said about the BOS but in this case, I think preserving a little section of the city, that has its own viable industry, from the tech behemoth is a good thing. It’s true that most of the businesses currently in the design center could find other space, but so can Pinterest. A number of buildings are currently under construction in SOMA that have large unleased space. perhaps they will have to forego the exposed brick and beams but that’s really not the tragedy it may seem. There may even be something on Mid-Market and that’s an area that is even more critical to lease up and get all the transforming projects moving.

    1. Yes, this is the reason we have zoning. The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was very thoughtful in setting the objective of protecting PDR. Unfortunately the ENP got hijacked with loopholes such as this one that’s currently attached to landmark status. Getting rid of the loophole is the right thing to do.

  14. Why does it seem like all of the slow down and blockage is coming from this overly ambitious Supervisor Cohen? I believe there is a personal agenda in full effect here as the logic behind slowing down growth and development in SF is narrow minded at best. The theme I always notice the few that think of short term benefit at the expense of long term gain. I am sure that is not the case for neither this instance nor any other building project she has been working against (i.e. SF Shipyard, numerous projects in Potrero/Dogpatch). So where is the short term gain?… her own personal political gain surely. Let the growth and development happen and it will have a great positive impact to the surrounding communities. Get these overly ambitious politicians out of the equation… Useless.

      1. Everything has it’s limits and this is a fine case in point. So I see your attempt at sarcasm, but again, another example of narrow mindedness

  15. The Design Center is a San Francisco treasure. Can’t Pinterest just locate in one of the dozens of new office buildings being built in Soma? I’m not for restricting commercial markets, but, it would be sad to see the DC and its tenants go.

  16. Either the PDR zoning has teeth and this should not be converted, or we should relax all of the PDR anti-residential, anti-office restrictions and let building owners meet the market. Carving out a special category for a big landlord with a big building and a big potential new tenant isn’t particularly fair or transparent.

    Any building over 50 years old is ‘potentially’ a historic resource. The city is asking for some very high pressure ‘historic resource evaluation’ in coming months if/when this conversion finally goes through.

    FWIW, Malia Cohen doesn’t pay her bills.

    1. lol, I remember that one. Playing (and losing) the capitalist game. It’s for grown ups, girl.

  17. The booming company is outgrowing its space at 888 Brannan and the dependably hair-brained Board has activated Cohen to tell them their expansion is unwelcome instead of coming up with a thoughtful and creative solution to their growing pains. This sort of stupidity is going to persist in city government as long as the electorate keeps installing managerial hacks with amenable names to office.

      1. If you have insights on available space, you should be in the commercial space business because you’d make a lot of clients happy.

      2. Exactly! All of the existing tenants can certainly find other space in the city. Why should we force the owner of the building to subsidize them when he/she can get a higher price from someone else?

      3. Let’s re-read what I said: populist politician lacks creative solution to help a growing company expand in the city.

        Now let’s re-read what you said in response: “and there’s NO other space in the entire city?” The assertion being that commercial real estate inventory fitting this company’s requirements is ample.

        Whose argument is lame again?

        Or wait, maybe you know something that I don’t. It sounds like you know the company’s space requirements and have knowledge of alternate sites that fit those requirements. Maybe I’ve misjudged your ambiguously presumptive argument and you actually have something informative to offer… I’ll wait.

  18. It’s zoned PDR for a reason. This neighborhood is a thriving design node that was already forced out of the North Waterfront 20 years ago when the Icehouse went office. When the current owners bought this building I believe it was zoned M-1 or M-2 for industrial use, not office. Now it’s zoned PDR, after a lengthy planning process and input from many different stakeholders… the owners being only one of many stakeholders. Zoning exists for a reason. Otherwise, might as well move to Houston. Now there’s a nice, compact, walkable city for you.

    1. Your comment makes no sense. The proposal is not to build new urban sprawl like Houston, but to reuse an existing, historic building, which is more like New York. So, whatever you think you mean about “walkable city,” etc. is very off-base.

      That said, this situation is a direct result of NIMBYism from the 1980’s. Proposition M needs to be amended so there can be more commercial construction where it belongs–downtown, where there is the public infrastructure, including good public transportation, to support it. There should not be surface parking lots or parking garages (except for underground garages built beneath buildings) downtown, nor should there be crummy low-rise 1970’s buildings. Yes, protect the historic buildings, as they already are under current historic preservation laws, but there should be an easing of zoning regulations so it is easier to build more office space downtown where parking garages and crappy 1970’s buildings now stand.

      Why do you think Pinterest is even looking at this building in the Design District in the first place? It is not because the building is so great or located in such a great location. Rather, it is because the city has severe shortage of commercial space caused by onerous restrictions on building new commercial space. Ease them a bit, and this would remove buildings like this completely out of the consideration by companies like Pinterest, which would make them cheaper and more affordable for PDR and small businesses in general.

      It is simple cause and effect. There is a sledgehammer, stupid ballot-box approach (rather than the thoughtful zoning you mention in your post) almost 30 years ago, and the negative repercussions are felt in the current day. But, SF often tends to be reactionary, rather than thoughtful and methodical,

  19. Because it violates zoning laws. Why do you hate laws? Or do you only support laws that benefit you and your friends? Are you an anarchist? Shame on you, anonymous anarchist!

    1. Are laws never wrong? Why do you love all laws? Do you support bringing back Jim Crow laws in the south? Questioning authority is one of the benchmarks of a liberal and just society.

    2. It obviously does not violate zoning laws, or Sup. Cohen would not be proposing a new law to try to prevent the use of the building–if you have to pass a law to prevent something, then it means it is legal (and you have to take legislative action to make it illegal). Regardless of your position on the issue, let’s engage in reasoned discussion and drop the sarcasm and name-calling–it’s childish and has no place here.

  20. I own one of the small “mom and pop” businesses in the design center showplace. We are in no way wealthy and barely kept our doors open during the recession. The larger showrooms also employ many local people who are also not rich. Business is now finally booming and we are now finally starting to recover financially. Many clients are well off, but we are now seeing a steady increase in our middle class business. Please do not support the sneaky way the landlords are trying to kick us out for more tech companies. People are always going to need home furnishings. Is there a guarantee that the tech companies will still be here in 10 years? Or even 2? Once the home furnishing business leaves SF it will be gone and won’t come back.

    1. It sounds like there’s no guarantee that your company will be around in 10 or 2 years, so I’m not sure what the difference is?

    2. Perhaps you should support amending Proposition M so more commercial space can be built downtown–where it belongs. Then, there would be more space available for larger tenants like Pinterest and they would have no interest in buildings like the one you are located in.

      As long as SF creates an artificial shortage of office space where it makes the most sense to build it through severe restrictions on the construction of new space and an entitlement process that takes years and tons of money (if you ever get approval in the first place), you will have companies looking elsewhere for space, including at old buildings like the one your so-called “mom and pop” business is located in.

    1. Petitions like this are exactly why I stopped giving money to Moveon.org. How in this world is this an issue that they should be associated with?

  21. brilliant plan to kill jobs and sabotage your own city. what an idiot! honestly, how do these people get elected. oh wait, only the most jaded 25% are voting in SF. We really have to find a way to get out the vote in future alections. I think there are enough moderate sane people in this town to get rid of these clowns.

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