Ferry Building rental hike worries some


The Ferry Building has become accustomed to the spotlight. On Monday, a national television cooking show was filming there with the historic landmark is the perfect backdrop.

There's a vibrant outdoor farmers market selling high quality local produce, but the 65,000 square foot indoor marketplace is the highlight. It's the heart of a massive renovation project undertaken by the city's port commission back in 1998.

"While we were nervous, we really believed it would be successful, and honestly, it's even more successful than we even dreamed it would be," says Byron Rhett, SF port Commission.

Hustle and bustle is nothing new for the Ferry Building. It was once the busiest terminal in the nation. Before there were bridges across the bay, millions of ferry passengers made their way through this gateway to the city. But times changed, and especially with the introduction of the automobile, the building became a has-been, but the $100 million redo gave the old place new life.

Almost from the moment the newly renovated Ferry Building opened its doors, it created buzz, generating national and international press.

There are 40 merchants offering the very best of Bay Area food. Recchiuti Confections sells one-of-a-kind chocolates and was one of the first vendors to open five years ago.

"It was also a really great venue for many of us who are small companies that really don't have the kind of seed money to find space down on Union Square," says Jacky Recchiuti, Recchiuti Confections.

The experiment has paid off, attracting locals and tourists.

Even Prince Charles and Camilla made a stop in 2005. But now, this foodie's paradise is in flux. The five year leases of the founding shops are expiring and there's a new company handling the negotiations.

Most of the merchants, like Recchiuti have renewed. She would not divulge the terms, but says she's satisfied. Others who are still negotiating, are concerned they might become victims of the Ferry Building's run-away success.

Ian Garrone and his parents are organic mushroom farmers. He worries the rent could be jacked up as much as 60 percent, forcing them out.

"It would be a shame to stop this now when we're just getting rolling here. I'd like to have a long partnership with the Ferry Building and I hope we can work it out."

Mistral Rotisserie is also on edge. They feel the corporation operating the Ferry Building doesn't understand mom and pop shops like theirs.

"And yet, that was the whole point of the Ferry Building -- to have smaller businesses here, local businesses here," says Betty Marcon, Mistral Rotisserie.

That's still the focus according to the property manager, even though rents are rising. The company is not saying how much the rent is rising, due to "the nature of negotiations."

"Working in the city and doing business in the city is costly, but I think we're being incredibly fair," says Jane Connors, Ferry Building Manager.

Connors says only one tenant has moved out in the last five years and one has moved in. Boccalone is the new kid on the block.

"We've only been here two and a half months, so it's too early for us to know if we're really going to make it, but there's no better location, perhaps anywhere in the United States," says Mark Pastore, Boccalone.

At least 15,000 visitors browse there each day. Last year, the merchants' gross sales totaled $66 million, bringing the city's cash-strapped port $1.3 million annually in rent. Some of the pioneers, who took a risk early, are hoping they'll be around to celebrate the next anniversary.

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