Art supply store to be anchor of revitalized Market Street

August 18, 2010 7:54:21 PM PDT
San Francisco's Market Street is a tale of two corridors. From the foot of Market to the cable car turnaround on Powell, there are upscale shops and tourists walk the few steps to and from Union Square. Once you crossover to 5th Street, everything changes. The shops are shabbier, homeless or near homeless fill the street and tourists are warned to stay away.

For decades city officials have tried to revitalize the mid-Market area but nothing has really worked.

Carolyn Diamond is President of the Market Street Association and has watched for 25 years as various plans have come and gone. She believes the one unveiled Tuesday by Mayor Gavin Newsom will finally pay off.

Newsom's idea is to turn the mid-Market corridor into a cultural arts district. Newsom cut the ribbon on a store that will serve as an anchor in helping to turn things around. Blick, an arts supply store that is celebrating 100 years in business, has just moved from Van Ness Avenue to a huge space at Market and 6th -- arguably the most edgy street in the area.

"Don't get me wrong. I drive by here every day and see exactly what San Franciscans see. Where they are rolling their eyes... rightfully. I get it, but understand, this is a moment in time," says Newsom.

The owner says Blick wants to be at the forefront of the "momentum building around the cultural arts district."

"If you look at art areas around the country, they are always in developing areas that's what artists are all about," says Richard Jacobsohn from Blick Art Materials.

Newsom says there is more than $11 million in federal money to attract other businesses with low interest loans.

The city, along with Blick, will also push art by sponsoring an arts market in U.N. Plaza every Thursday, starting Aug. 19 from noon until 8 p.m. to allow local artists to showcase and sell their work.

In September there will be dancing in the streets by the Mint Plaza. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is helping pay for the efforts to transform the area into a thriving arts and entertainment district. Also, millions in HUD money will go to entrepreneurs.

Around the corner on 6th Street, a new restaurant -- Passion Café -- is taking advantage of the momentum and proving skeptics wrong.

"They all were very suspicious of our sanity and could not perhaps see our vision as we saw it," says Steve Barton from Passion Café.

Street improvements are slated and the police department will soon open a substation.

Carolyn Diamond of the Market Street Merchants Association has seen plans come and go over the last 25 years and thinks this time it might work.


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