July 11, 2016 Rob Poole

Filling those Ground Floors with San Francisco Makers

A common concern we’ve heard about new housing developments is that the ground floor spaces are left sitting vacant for far too long. This shared space is vital to a project’s success, whether to residents of the building or people just passing by, so it’s important to fill these spaces in ways that contribute to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.

Finding a tenant that will be successful can be a challenge, particularly given the rents often required by the owner and the business risks associated with signing a new lease. It can be even more difficult for spaces in San Francisco’s neighborhoods where Production, Distribution and Repair, more commonly known as PDR, is required. PDR, explained further on the Planning Department’s website, refers to light industrial uses and is aimed at preserving or encouraging specific types of businesses, primarily in the manufacturing sector, which generally cannot afford the high San Francisco rents. To better understand how developers can prepare their commercial space for PDR use, we invited Gina Falsetto of SFMade to speak to a Project Review Committee meeting and offer our members some tips.

Who is SFMade?
Founded in 2010, SFMade is member-based, non-profit, economic development organization that advocates for San Francisco’s manufacturing sector. In just the first quarter of 2016, SFMade members actively looking for space included jewelers, apparel makers, printers, woodworkers, and pie makers, among many others. Let’s call these people “makers.” The median sized space they sought was about 1,500 square feet, with an average target rent of $1.25 per square foot. This is a challenge because most owners are generally looking for rents closer to $4 per square foot.

Can PDR space include accessory retail?
Yes! PDR space can include up to 33 percent accessory retail, meaning the manufacturer can set up a retail space in the front of their building and do their other operations in the back. Rickshaw Bagworks in Dogpatch is a good example.

How to design space for PDR?
There are several requirements, including roll-up doors, delivery access, 10-30 foot high ceilings, water access and a minimum building depth of 35 feet. Manufacturers target space anywhere between 500 and 10,000 square feet, so the ground floor should be made flexible. Perhaps one big space could be successful, but it should be able to be broken up into several smaller areas. An example is 350 8th Street, pictured below, which has about 9,500 square feet of ground-floor PDR.

350 8th Street

Most manufacturers can work well in diverse settings, with other makers, and residential, or retail uses around them. The key to attracting consumers is diversification, foot traffic and tenants! Other perks that improve the business’ prospects include having ample bike parking, as well as bike and car sharing options and proximity to transit.

Ground Floor

Finally, the design should be considerate of the residents. Notice how the PDR space at 1010 Potrero is set back from the residential units to mitigate possible complaints over noise or vibrations.

SFMade Slide 15

Encouraging PDR in San Francisco
Because many San Franciscans value PDR, particularly in the eastern part of the City where industrial land use once ruled, several efforts have been made by the SF Planning Department to encourage its creation through zoning changes. In 2014, the City passed the following amendments:

  • Allow retail and its associated light manufacturing on the ground floor in all Neighborhood Commercial Districts;
  • Allow the sharing of accessory retail in multi-tenant PDR space;
  • Adopt a two-year pilot inclusionary PDR program that gives a developer the one time right to build new office space on PDR-zoned land so as long at least one-third of the development is for PDR use.

As discussed above, filling any ground-floor spaces, but especially with PDR, is a challenge. There are clear best-design practices developers and architects can adopt to make their ground floors attractive, but financing remains a challenge. Frankly, creating new spaces for our makers to work is expensive. An owner has to take a chance with a PDR tenant who can’t afford the rent being asked in hopes that it makes the building attractive to consumers or the building’s tenants. Otherwise, some type of subsidy is required to enable the tenant to afford the space.

Builders should keep these ideas in mind when pursuing their next project. After all, we experience these buildings at the street level, so it’s important we give those spaces our attention.

Top Image: Jeremy Brooks

Rob Poole

Rob is the former Development and Communications Manager at SFHAC.

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