Feds’ new building stirs mixed feelings 

Backers of the new federal building on Seventh and Mission streets are touting the structure’s role in revitalizing the South of Market area, but some business owners and residents are worried it will put them out on the street.

The 18-story building, which was approved in 1994, will house about 1,500 federal employees now working out of rented spaces across The City. The U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense are just a few of the agencies that will call the building home.

Employees will start moving into the building next week, and the plan is to be at full capacity by the end of April, said Gene Gibson, a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration.

The controversial superstructure, however, has divided the South of Market neighborhood. Designed by Santa Barbara architect Thom Mayne, the building is gray, narrow and engulfed in metal screens that trap sunlight to save energy. Its design has come under fire from The City’s Planning Department for being too industrial.

The building’s backers say the structure is an improvement to the area and will only help the economy. A tower of condos sits to the right of the structure and a large-scale hotel is planned for down the street, Gibson said.

"If you’re bringing in 1,500 employees to work here, you’re going to have stores that are going to want to open up to serve them," she said. "This area has seen its bad days. It’s up and coming now."

Peter Stamison, GSA’s regional administrator, added: "Those high-priced condos would have never been built if this was still a bus station or a vacant lot."

Some community members, however, are worried the $144 million complex will force neighboring landlords to raise rents. Durazo said there are a lot of ethnic-specific services in the surrounding area, such as restaurants and garment factories, that will not be able to stay afloat if rents start to rise.

"It’s going to threaten a lot of the businesses in the area," said Chris Durazo, community-planning director for the South of Market Community Action Network.

"It’s built like a fortress. The nature of the building is not conducive to the neighborhood," Durazo added.

arocha@examiner.com

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