San Francisco's Art in Storefronts project given kick in pants from Mayor's Office 

A program that fills vacant storefronts with art installations along a seedy stretch of Market Street relaunched with great fanfare Friday with Mayor Ed Lee helping kick things off. But behind the scenes, the Mayor’s Office clashed with the merchants’ group originally charged with running the show.

In an April letter to the Central Market Community Benefits District — an organization of merchants who pay more than $500,000 a year to beautify a stretch of Market Street between Fifth and Ninth streets — the mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development sharply criticizes the group for failing to get the Art in Storefronts program off the ground.

When the program first began in 2008 with an announcement by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, the merchant group received a grant from the Mayor’s Office to install 13 artworks in vacant storefronts. After one year, only one such project had been installed, according to the letter from city staffers Lisa Pagan and Amy Cohen.

"Ultimately less than 11 installations occurred and the program took much more effort than ... originally intended," the letter said.

The program would eventually be taken over by the Arts Commission, which had complained when the merchant’s group failed to clean up graffiti that appeared on Market Street murals for at least two months.

In its April letter, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development also criticized the group for failing to hold merchant meetings despite a $4,000 grant from The City to do so.

The problems have since been solved, according to Pagan and the executive director of the benefits district, Daniel Hurtado. There are now six storefront installations, as well as five murals.

The new president of the district’s board of directors, David Fariello, said The City’s letter came as a wake-up call.

"Since the memo came out, it feels like the communication has gotten significantly better," Fariello said. "I feel like it was a hiccup in the communication, but we’re in the process of ironing that out."

A community benefits district assesses a tax on property owners within a prescribed area. The property owners then decide how to spend that money to improve the area — often using it for security, sidewalk cleanup and facade improvements.

Leadership on the board of directors for the Central Market district has changed twice since the organization’s inception. The first president, Michael Yarne, quit in 2008 when he took a job with The City’s Planning Department. Yarne now works for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the very agency that sent the critical letter. Katie O’Brien, who replaced Yarne, resigned in April.


Painting a picture

9: Community benefits districts in The City

$535,299: Total amount expected to be collected from Central Market businesses in 2011

11: Storefront art projects originally planned in mid-Market

6: Storefront projects unveiled Friday

Source: Office of Economic Workforce Development, Arts Commission

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