Commercial galleries Market USA

San Francisco dealers move away from downtown

Rising rents around Union Square and the temporary closure of nearby SFMOMA has led some galleries to open new spaces in Potrero Hill

Catharine Clark is one of four dealers opening in September in Potrero Hill

A new gallery district is springing up in San Francisco. On 7 September, four dealers—Jack Fischer, Brian Gross, Catharine Clark and George Lawson—are scheduled to open new spaces in Lower Potrero Hill, located 20 minutes from the city’s downtown area. Rising rents and the temporary loss of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) as an anchor have contributed to the migration, dealers say.

Although San Francisco’s galleries have congregated downtown in Union Square for more than 50 years, dealers are increasingly being priced out by technology firms. Meanwhile, SFMoMA’s home nearby is closed until 2016 as it undergoes an expansion and the collection is travelling with exhibitions scheduled throughout the Bay Area.

In the galleries’ new neighbourhood Potrero Hill, rent is around 10% cheaper than in Union Square, where landlords charge as much as $45 per sq. ft for a gallery on an upper floor, according to the San Francisco-based real estate agent Hans Hansson. Downtown rents have risen by nearly $20 per sq. ft in recent years because of competition from technology firms. “Art galleries want unconventional spaces with high ceilings—that’s exactly what the tech guys want,” says Hansson. Potrero Hill’s warehouses, however, are zoned for industrial use, which enables galleries to move in, but not technology firms.

“Lower rent is definitely one of the driving forces” behind his decision to move, says Jack Fischer, who spent the past nine years at 49 Geary Street, a popular gallery hub. But the relocation is also motivated by “what I take to be a certain staleness in the downtown scene”, he says.

Art institutions began gathering in Potrero Hill around five years ago, and the neighbourhood is now home to the artist-run non-profit Southern Exposure, the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, the Museum of Craft and Design, as well as the commercial space Hosfelt Gallery. “Gallery neighbourhoods in other cities like New York and Los Angeles are much more fluid, but the San Francisco gallery scene has, until now, always been so fixed,” says Brian Gross, whose new ground-floor gallery—a converted door factory—is twice the size of his former space.

But some galleries are choosing to remain downtown. In November, Jessica Silverman Gallery will open a new, 2,800 sq. ft space in the Tenderloin, a slightly grittier area that is home to other emerging galleries including Shooting Gallery, Ever Gold, and Luggage Store.

The building at 248 Utah Street, which will house the Brian Gross and Catharine Clark galleries, is a former door factory
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9 Sep 13
3:44 CET


@ David Klein, 16th & Mission BART w/in walking distance to Portrero Hill? Please. Considering the location we're talking about is Potrero around Rhode Island St. Yeah, you could also walk from Chinatown to City Hall, but I wouldn't call it "walking distance". On a positive note, this move will be great for CCA students.

2 Sep 13
19:34 CET


I handled several of the art gallery real estate deals that you reported on. Lower Potrero Hill offers the art galleries high-ceilinged, light-filled, long-span spaces with freight elevator, garage door or dock access at a fraction of Geary St rents. I disagree about lack of public transportation. There is a BART stop at 16th/Mission within walking distance of LoPo & MUNI runs buses through LoPo throughout the day. MUNI light rail runs down 3rd Street with a stop at 16th. Parking is plentiful and the costs are minimal compared to Geary St. It is also home to UCSF, the contract furnishings and design industry at Showplace Square and a vibrant residential neighborhood. Regards, David Klein Moreover, the PDR zoning which permits galleries and blocks office use will keep the galleries rent low for the foreseeable future.

29 Aug 13
1:27 CET


In addition to Geary street area being stale, and dirty, San Francisco has not been a very vibrant visual arts town. This is slowly changing and hopefully giving LA a run for its money. Sadly, the Potrero Hill area suffers from a lack of convenient public transportation, and sketchy areas, so you almost have to drive there.

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