Geary Neighbors Welcome Future Target Store, Voice Some Concerns

Supervisor Mirkarimi addresses the crowd.Supervisor Mirkarimi addresses the crowd.

At last night's community meeting, held by Target execs interested in opening a store at Geary and Masonic, there wasn't a NIMBY in sight. Instead, the prevailing sentiment was, "YIMBY: Yes! In my backyard! How soon can can you move in?"

Target's executives must have been surprised that not one speaker at the hour-and-a-half meeting expressed animus towards the chain store, while many speakers were unequivocal in their support, and some offered suggestions and requests to help the proposed store conform to the unique space.

In conceptual illustrations developed by designers at Studio One Eleven for Target, wind turbines adorn the roof and news stands engage with pedestrians on the Geary side of the project. "Right now it's pretty uninviting and harsh," Lasley said. "Let's try to get some activity on the street."

"We want to mitigate the bulky scale," said Thom Lasley, Target's Lead Design Project Architect. He gestured to photos of the currently-bleak exterior, built in 1961 for Sears. Lasley described upgrades ranging from a fresh coat of paint to improved signage to more landscaping with native species. If all goes to plan, the store would open in March of 2012, with significant alterations to the building.

"This community meeting is just the first step in the process," said John Dewes, Target's Regional Development Manager. The company hasn't yet approached the city with a proposal; instead, their strategy was to engage with the community first, so that they could incorporate neighbor's concerns in their proposal. They expect to apply for a Conditional Use Permit later this year.

Some neighbors could scarcely contain their excitement over the 100,000 square-foot store, which would carry a familiar array of apparel, home goods, electronics, health and beauty products, and groceries.

Between two hundred and two hundred and fifty people would be employed, said Dewes, "both at this location and at the Metreon." Then he paused, with a surprised look on his face. "Oh. I wasn't going to mention that," he said, to laughter from the crowd. Yes, he admitted, the company is looking at opening another Target in the Metreon. They would open both at the same time, , he said, though if one falls through it wouldn't derail the other.

Dewes was clearly a little sheepish to have accidentally let that cat out of the bag. "I feel just like when I told my daughter there's no Santa Claus," he joked, apparently not noticing several small children in attendance.

Encouraging Signs

Target enjoys some powerful fans. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi stopped by to chat with neighbors, and although his support rests on citizen input and the nature of Target's eventual proposal, he gave it a cautious thumbs-up. "It makes sense," he said. "This makes sense."

The site is also near Supervisors Eric Mar's and Michaela Alioto-Pier's districts and Mar was present to speak one-on-one with attendees at the meeting. Although Alioto-Pier didn't appear, two candidates running for her district seat did. Barbara Berwick pledged her emphatic support if elected, and Kat Anderson asked Target officials to commit to hiring seniors and students, and to tailor the store to match the neighborhood.

"One thing Target does well is to be flexible in the design approach," said Target Communications Manager Sarah Bakken "We're not here to put down a big store."

Officials were quick to point out that this location would be significantly different from a suburban Target, with a selection of merchandise targeted specifically for users who will be carrying items on bikes and buses. According to the company, it has experience installing stores in densely-populated areas, with more than 150 urban locations that include The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and Minneapolis. Their Atlantic Terminal store in Brooklyn -- which has met with mixed reactions -- boasts not a single parking spot.

That's a far cry from the Geary/Masonic location, which is dominated by asphalt and about 600 parking spots. With such an enormous portion of the land reserved for car storage, Target planners don't expect to encounter the traffic jams that have plagued the nearby Trader Joe's.

"We're very comfortable with the level of parking here, particularly with the transit methods available," said Dewes. "We do not expect to have that same congestion. The parking here is more than adequate for what we see." Trader Joe's has just 60 spots, plus two "secret" ones on the roof that allow City CarShare members to bypass the line for the parking lot.

Some Concerns Remain

Not all neighbors were convinced that Target could mitigate traffic impacts. According to Ewing Terrace resident Jennifer Colloway, it takes ten minutes just to leave her street to drive her kids to school. "I do want you here, I support you," she said, "but we have to keep Masonic flowing."

District Two candidate Anderson asked if Target would consider a delivery service and devoting space to bike-sharing. Lasley responded that Target currently offers "customer-assisted pickup" at some stores, including its Atlantic Terminal location, but hasn't attempted a delivery service yet. He added that they're closely watching bike-share programs to Minneapolis to see how their stores could participate in such a program.

Jamie Kendall, another Ewin Terrace resident, worried about the impact that delivery trucks would have on air quality. Dewes estimated that the store would receive three to four large truck deliveries a week, but added that their procedure involves the detaching of cabs to eliminate idling.

Nearby resident Jason Coleman was unpersuaded by claims that the store would not cause traffic jams. "Target inventory isn't conducive to transit. It just isn't," he said. "You're going to have 600 cars here in your first hour. I'm not going to be able to get out of my home on Black Friday."

Other speakers suggested that the store implement shuttle service, such as those offered by the grocery store Molly Stone's, or provide transit-use incentives, similar to the discounts offered by the Academy of Sciences.

When asked by Streetsblog, Target reps could not provide specific estimates for trip generation. "We expect that trip generation will break down as in other urban areas," said Dewes, "that there is a mix of those coming from further neighborhoods, on Muni, and on bicycles."

Lasley added that their planning process is heavily focused on driving alternatives. "Target realizes there is a different guest at this store," he said, "not just the traditional suburban guest who drives."

The site is dominated by storage space.The site is dominated by storage space for cars.

Challenges of the Location

Few San Franciscans love the structure at Geary and Masonic, which is almost never referred to by its official name, "City Center." Dominated by empty lots and wasting a spectacular view of downtown, its challenges are numerous.

Some have called for the entire thing to be demolished and rebuilt as a transit-oriented development, though that option is not currently on the table. "A property like this has existing leases," said Adam Miller, of property-manager Lubert-Adler. Replacing the structure would require the eviction of retail tenants and a planning process that would take years, if not over a decade.

Until that happens, everyone is keen to convert the space from a ghost town to a retail destination. Target is working steadily towards a formal application, and will incorporate public input in their final project proposal.

"We're doing a lot of of work to find out what's the best fit, given the demographic and transportation options," said Bakken.

Mariana Parreiras, a member of Fix Masonic, pointed out that the MTA is in the midst of a traffic-calming project to improve safety and livability on Masonic. "I would encourage you to work with us on traffic calming," she said.

Javad Mirabdal, is the MTA Planner overseeing the Masonic project. "We'll meet with them," he said, gesturing the the Target reps.

Ultimately, said Dewes, Target's goal is to develop a store that contributes positively to the neighborhood. "And that has to be done in conjunction with the city," he said.