Pioneering developer Patrick McNerney, whose industrial, loft-style buildings helped establish both SoMa and Dogpatch as trendy areas, has set his sights on a new neighborhood: hardscrabble Visitacion Valley.
McNerney’s Martin Building Co. has bought a parcel of land that abuts the former Schlage Lock property on San Francisco’s southern edge, where developer Universal Paragon is about to start construction on the first phase of a 1,679-unit housing development.
McNerney paid $1.85 million for the property, according to public records compiled by the Old Republic Title Co. He said he hopes to build about 200 units of housing over ground-floor retail on the 1.2-acre property.
The developer said he wasn’t looking for land in Visitacion Valley, but stumbled on the listing while looking at the real estate website LoopNet. He was intrigued — even though the southern edge of the city is a long way from his usual stomping grounds around Mint Plaza, SoMa, Dogpatch and central Mission Street.
‘Great opportunity site’
“It’s a great opportunity site,” he said. “It’s a major transit hub. Visitacion Valley could use large-scale investment and pedestrian-friendly retail,” he said. “It’s an awesome place that has been overlooked.” The property is part of an old Union Pacific Railroad right of way located on Tunnel Avenue near the border of San Francisco and Brisbane.
While the Martin Building project is bite-size compared to Universal Paragon’s 20-acre undertaking, it means that money is flowing to the area, the result of years of work by city planners, Universal Paragon and Visitacion Valley residents. The neighborhood is one of the poorest in San Francisco and hasn’t attracted development in decades, despite its transit-rich location on both Caltrain and Muni streetcar lines.
Visitacion Valley residents hope that the new housing on both projects will pump life into its downtown retail strip, Leland Avenue, which struggles to attract enough foot traffic despite a nice small-town vibe. The plan calls for Leland Avenue to be extended into the Schlage Lock property.
Visitacion Valley resident Fran Martin, who has been involved in planning the Schlage Lock project for 16 years, said she is “excited because of the projects that Patrick McNerney has completed.”
“It gives me hope that people will want to live here — this guy knows what he is doing,” Martin said.
The investment comes as Universal Paragon is getting ready to commence the “horizontal construction” — curbs, streets, streetlights, utilities — on phase one at the Schlage Lock site, which has sat dormant since 1999 when owner Ingersoll Rand closed the factory that had operated there since 1926.
Universal Paragon Development Director Jonathan Scharfman said a combination of open space and lower-density row houses had originally been contemplated for the Union Pacific Railroad property, but that he welcomes “high-quality development that is consistent with current plans and that doesn’t compromise the standards that were set over so many years.”
“Our concern is that any development that occurs on that site be consistent with design guidelines that were developed over years with the community and the city family,” Scharfman said.
McNerney said he’s had one meeting with city planners. “We are at the start of the process — and it will be a process.”
Martin said she is looking forward to the first bulldozers moving dirt on the fenced-in swath of dirt and tall grass, a frequent dumping ground for unwanted household garbage.
“My main concern is that it all works together and that it be fabulous,” Martin said. “It’s going to be a tough sell, where it is, so it has to be really well-designed.”
Martin held the first neighborhood meetings about the reuse of Schalge Lock in 1999 when the factory was shuttered.
“It’s been a long haul,” she said. “I’m 70 years old, so it’s got to happen soon.”