Threatened with tech development, SF Flower Mart allies rally for City institution 

click to enlarge Jaime Moreno
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Jaime Moreno looks over flowers at stand in the Flower Mart. He has sold flowers at the Flower Mart for 15 years. The Flower Mart has an uncertain future due to a developer’s unsettled plans.

Shell burst-yellow chrysanthemums and periscoping sun flowers filled the floor before Jaime Moreno on Wednesday morning. The white plastic buckets holding his wares offered all variety of flowers, except for red roses.

"I don't think I have red roses anymore," he told an inquisitive woman.

"How much for this?" she asked, holding up another bunch of flowers.

"Five," he replied.

Moreno has sold flowers out of the bright and, yes, flower-scented series of open-floor buildings known as the San Francisco Flower Mart for the past 15 years.

But in recent months with the planned purchase of the site by the Los Angeles-based real estate firm Kilroy Realty Corp., which has proposed to build a tech campus on the site, the more than 100 businesses in the South of Market location are in limbo.

While Kilroy has promised to accommodate flower sellers at the corner of Brannan and Sixth streets, no concrete guarantees have been made, noted Patrick McCann of Greenworks, one of the site's businesses. With many longtime leases up in 130 days some are wondering if that promise will be kept.

"All my life, I have done this," Moreno said of the flower business, adding that he does not have a good feeling about what is in store for the Flower Mart.

Now, several San Francisco politicos are stumping to keep the Flower Mart in place. They are arguing that it could be one more victim of the tech-crazed real estate market driving up residential rents and now pushing out long-established small businesses.

"The struggle for the heart and soul of San Francisco continues in the face of a huge out of town corporate interest gobbling up properties housing profitable small business at the San Francisco Flower Mart," former Mayor Art Agnos said in a statement as part of efforts to keep flower sellers at the location.

"Kilroy is simply trying to make more profits," he said Wednesday at a news conference at the Flower Mart. "The whole city can't be for programmers."

Kilroy, which did not reply to a call for comment, has made public pledges to incorporate the flower vendors into any project on the site.

But former Supervisor Aaron Peskin questioned that pledge Wednesday, saying any promises to work with the tenants looks disingenuous since there are plans to tear down the current building and replace it with a tech office park.

"Now I have reason to distrust Kilroy," he told the Wednesday crowd. "Game on."

The San Francisco Flower Growers Association, who own half of the site, filed the proposal in March 2013 for a 160-foot office building on the site and have until January to file a development proposal. The association's shareholders vote Sept. 11 on the sale.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee has said that anything built on the site will incorporate the current tenants.

"The mayor is committed to making sure that the Flower Mart stays at its current location," noted Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "He has directed his Office of Economic and Workforce Development and [the] Planning Department to work with Kilroy to ensure that a new Flower Mart is built into any new project at this site."

Still, for the proposed project to go forward The City would have to give it an exemption from current zoning rules barring offices in the area as well as any buildings over 50 feet tall, Peskin said. That is not likely, added former Supervisor Quitten Kopp, who also spoke Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the district and attended the news conference, said she plans to introduce legislation in September that would postpone construction of offices on land zoned for light industry and distribution until a full fledge rezoning is complete, still several years away.

"It's a stop gap measure that we can do immediately," she said.

This article has been updated from its original version

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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