San Francisco’s emerging market: the Central SOMA Plan [video]

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October 23, 2016

By: Ruby Bolaria and Amber Schiada, JLL Research – Northern California & Rocky Mountain Region

SOMA Development map

Central SOMA plan overview
In 2011, the San Francisco Planning Department began the process to develop an integrated community in the southern portion of the Central Subway rail corridor, surrounding 4th Street between Townsend and Market Street. The Central SOMA Plan proposes a comprehensive strategy to achieve this vision, addressing land use, building size and heights, transportation, sidewalks, open space and preservation of historic buildings. The Plan is currently under review and expected to be adopted in 2016.

Developmental goals
Zoning and land use changes will increase the amount of potential development for residential, commercial and office development. This will make a large portion of the area mixed-use office, allowing for new office development and easy use-conversions to office, which will create much-needed supply in this tight submarket.

The existing growth versus estimated potential growth is outlined below:

  Residential (s.f.) Commercial (s.f.) Jobs
Existing 8,255 3,827,445 19,140
Potential under Plan 3,490 5,563,700 27,820
Total Growth potential 11,715 9,391,145 46,960

SOMA is a technology hub for both startups and more established firms. Yelp, Reddit, and Zipcar are among those located within the Central SOMA Plan area. As these companies expand, there is little room left to accommodate growth, forcing them to look elsewhere.

This lack of availability is partly responsible for the rising rents, which deter some startups from locating in the coveted SOMA submarket. The Plan’s rezoning could offer a partial solution in the coming years.

Real Views photo


Address Entitlement status Developer/
706 Mission Entitled Millennium Partners 215 luxury condos: break ground 2015
923 Folsom Entitled Trumark Urban 114 Condos: break ground late 2015
639 Bryant Potential site PUC TODCO wants site for 100% affordable housing
363 6th Pending approval Realtex Group 104 Condos planned
655 4th Pending approval Tishman Speyer demolish retailers to build two 400-ft condo towers: 800 units
636 4th Pending approval Solbach Property Group Replace retail buildings with 350 ft. tower: 472 units
  Total units 1,705


Address Size (s.f.) Status Developer/Owner Notes
725-735 Harrison Street 730,940 Pending Approval Albert Costa, Theodore Brown and Partners Harrison Gardens
598 Brannan Street 700,456 Pending Approval Tishman Speyer Demolish two industrial buildings to construct two office buildings
559 6th Street 124,000 Pending Approval Irma and Angelo Ferro Demolish 3 buildings and construct mixed-use project
645 Harrison Street 147,976 Pending Approval Stanford Hotel Groups/Cresleigh Development Legalize existing office space and convert remaining to office; site would also house 300-room hotel
565 Bryant Street 188,280 Pending Approval Fourcade Family Trust/Charles Muller
330 Townsend Street 394,300 Pending Approval CIM Group Demolish existing building and replace with 21 story tower with office and retail or residential
610 Brannan Street 570,865 Pending Approval SKS Properties
575 6th  Street 655,150 Pending Approval Kilroy Realty Flower Mart project
925 Mission Street 1,045,000 Pending Approval Forest City 5M Project
501 Brannan Street 137,446 Entitled TMG Partners pending construction delivering 2016/2017
510 Townsend Street 268,634 Entitled Alexandria Real Estate 100% leased to Stripe
85 Bluxome Street 55,000 Under Construction Bluxome Partners Replace two demolished industrial buildings – scheduled to deliver Q4 2015.
345 Brannan Street 118,000 Under Construction Breevast 100% leased to Dropbox; delivering Q4 2015
333 Brannan Street 180,000 Under Construction Kilroy Realty 100% leased to Dropbox; delivering Q4 2015
Total 5,316,047


Address Entitlement stage Developer/Owner Notes
639 Bryant Street No plans PUC TODCO wants to file ballot measure to set aside site for affordable housing
645 5th Street No plans York Capital Management/JMA ventures now Sf tennis club but ripe for condos or office
601 Brannan Street No plans Academy of Arts illegally using site for student housing and could get stripped of entitlements this year


What prompted the changes and what is the purpose?
With the coming Central Subway through 4th Street, the area encompassed in the Central SOMA Plan will be transformed from mostly industrial to a high-density, transit-oriented development hub. The 1.7-mile-long subway will create a major transit spine that improves connections to SOMA from Downtown, Mission Bay and beyond.

The Plan aims to build on this transformation, and redesign Central SOMA to better meet the needs of residents, businesses and visitors. The Bay Area is expected to grow by 2.1 million people and add 1.1 million jobs over the next three decades, with the bulk of that growth in San Francisco. Unlike other areas in the city, central SOMA has the potential to create more space for the coming jobs.

Central SOMA is currently a mix of retail, residential, office and production, and distribution and repair (PDR) buildings. The aim is to preserve diversity and PDR space, increase density and office development, improve pedestrian and bike safety by redesigning streets, and create a model for sustainable growth.


How will housing be affected? What housing developments are in the area?
The Plan will enable up to 4,200 additional housing units, with priority given to 100-percent affordable housing projects.

There are already two entitled projects in the area, which will add 329 condominiums within the next two years. Four other projects in various planning stages would add 1,376 condominiums and at least 165 affordable units.

Although increasing housing supply remains an urgent concern for the city, the Plan prioritizes space for jobs over housing.


How will Central SOMA be redesigned to accommodate different transportation modes?The Central SOMA Plan aims to transform the current roadways into complete streets—streets designed to equally accommodate all types of users (pedestrians, bikers, transit riders and drivers).

Central SOMA is a historically industrial area, and the roads were originally designed to accommodate large trucks and carriers. The Plan will improve the streetscape to reflect current needs and create safe access for everyone. Improvements will include protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

Reduced traffic lanes and on-street car parking will discourage car use and make room for transit, biking, parks, and pedestrian-friendly public spaces. The density and walkability will make the area attractive to employers, professionals and residents who prefer amenity-rich neighborhoods and workplaces.


What about retail?
First-floor retail is promoted and sometimes mandated within the Plan area. The rezoning loosens current restrictions and creates ample space for retail throughout the area.

It prohibits big-box retailers in favor of, local retail, and commercial uses that encourage more “spill over” into the street are highly encouraged. A diverse range of retail (shops, groceries, bars, restaurants, etc.) will help create an attractive environment for professionals, shoppers and tourists at all hours of the day.


What are the new office development projects and what is their status? 
The relaxed zoning policies will encourage higher density near the transit hubs creating more office, residential and commercial space. The increased density with a variety of transportation options and new retail and commercial amenities will make it easier for employers to recruit top talent. There are several large central SOMA office developments that cannot move forward until the Plan is approved and adopted (expected in 2016).

The timeline leaves a high level of uncertainty as San Francisco is set to meet the Prop M cap this year. However, it could also prove useful as waiting until after 2016 could give time for the pool to replenish or for revisions to Prop M that would allow for additional development.

Of the 5.3 million square feet of office development in the area, 85.7 percent is unentitled. Of space that is entitled and under construction, 74.6 percent is preleased—providing little relief to the tight market in the near term.

Although the area is ripe for development, Prop M increases the level of risk for developers without Prop M allocation, and may discourage potential new development. The Central SOMA Plan has the potential to truly transform the area, but Prop M restrictions may be the biggest hindrance to its success.


How many square feet of office development is still available for Prop M allotment?  
There is currently 5.9 million square feet of Central SOMA office development in the Prop M queue. However, only 1.4 million square feet is left for allotment. An additional 875,000 square feet will be added to the pool by the end of October.

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