Monday, July 19, 2010

A Better Masonic: If Target Goes In, Adequate Parking is the Only Non-Issue

Target will be a more vigorously promoted and visited operation than the old Mervyn's

Mostly bleak and abandoned sidewalk along Masonic now

One of six huge parking lots at City Center Plaza

If free parking is guaranteed, how many will come?

The prospect of Target securing an outpost in San Francisco at City Center Plaza on Geary at Masonic occurs at either the best of times or the worst. During this staggering economic downturn, a new department store would bring needed jobs, fill an under-used property, enliven deadened pedestrian spaces, and offer goods to residents within walking and biking distance.

But Target would also attract thousands of motorists just as the city undertakes a community-based rethinking of Masonic Avenue and how the corridor now primarily serves motorists and transit riders with little account for people walking or biking. A Target outlet would dilute San Francisco's Transit First policy (which applies to Muni as well as pedestrians and bicyclists) and would undermine the city's resolve to keep national chain stores out of the neighborhoods. Non-union jobs at Target adds one more negative for many in the city.

The best and the worst aspects for Target are complicated and resist black-and-white for-or-against arguments. All the considerations will likely be mentioned, time permitting, this Wednesday when Target will present its proposal and solicit community reactions. (However, Target has scheduled only one hour for the meeting -- hardly enough time for a full consideration by the many stakeholders likely to attend. The initial limited outreach and only a brief public meeting elicit little confidence that Target wants a full review by neighbors).

A few gray-area considerations:
  • City Center Plaza is and has been home to national chains ever since Sears first developed the property. How much more draw will a vigorous Target be compared with the lackluster Mervyn's?
  • Hundreds of nearby residents may shop at a Target and forego driving to other locations for similar products
  • Boarded-up properties -- like the old Mervyn's store -- drain vitality from the neighborhood and blight the streetscape
  • Livability advocates and neighborhood residents will likely negotiate a great many "community benefits" if Target is allowed to take the space. These improvements could help transform the neglected sidewalks, re-landscape the ugly Geary median, re-envision the pocket park on Masonic at Geary, and invest in Masonic facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Vehicle traffic to Target will be far greater than what Mervyn's ever generated; the new store isn't a simple replacement for the old
  • Traffic counts on Masonic have been down in this economy, offering a chance to rethink a calmer corridor
  • Increased vehicle traffic on Masonic may slow transit just as Muni struggles to improve its on-time performance and overall service along the corridor
  • Side streets in the Anza Vista neighborhood will likely see a surge in traffic, not only on O'Farrell to access the many parking lots but also from motorists avoiding Masonic by taking small neighborhood streets off Turk like Nido, Vega (that fronts Wallenberg High School) and Anza Vista as a back entrance to parking
  • The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposed for Geary must be factored into the discussion
The perennial flashpoint for most developments in San Francisco -- too much or too little parking -- will likely be off the table for Target at this site. With a half-dozen vastly under-utilized parking lots, the spaces are already there, and no one will demand more.

Public Meeting about Target at Geary & Masonic
Wednesday, July 21, 6:30 to 7:30
City Center Plaza
2675 Geary at the old Mervyn's site

For other articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

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