Tenderloin Economic Development Project

Letter from the Executive Director
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Greetings from the Tenderloin Economic Development Project (TEDP)

I'm frequently asked by friends and acquaintances who've heard of the Tenderloin what I think about the neighborhood.  It's a difficult question to answer; the Tenderloin is a very complex community.

What has struck me most since arriving five months ago, however, is the wealth here.  In fact, I'd say the Tenderloin just might be San Francisco's richest neighborhood.

The wealth I'm referring to is in its people, its art, its architecture, its many excellent restaurants, its community based organizations.

TEDP's job is to leverage economic development projects to provide maximum return to the community.  Toward that end we're working with art organizations to identify art projects that double as economic development projects, art programming that can deliver human development benefits, and art organizations that contribute to local real estate development. 

Let's look at some examples already existing in the Tenderloin.  

In the area of arts for economic development, it's easy to see how the EXIT Theatre benefits local businesses every time it hosts a play or musical.  The EXIT's patrons park at Ramon LaGuardia's parking lot across the street, have dinner at Deanna and Jay's widely acclaimed Farmer Brown restaurant around the corner, and stop by Frankie's 21 Club for an after-show drink.   Joining the EXIT are the landmark Warfield, the Golden Gate, and Orpheum theatres.    Indeed, the current run of Wicked at the Orpheum all but overwhelms fan favorite Soluna Café, which gets so crowded they regularly call restaurants outside of the Tenderloin to help customers find tables (restaurateurs take note - art patrons are looking for local options after the shows). 

In arts for human development (a long-term portfolio investment in economic development), the Tenderloin has several outstanding organizations:  the Boys & Girls Club; Hospitality House; the Vietnamese Youth Development Center; the Tenderloin After School Project; and the San Francisco Recovery Theatre.   Each of these groups works with at-risk populations in the neighborhood and through the arts offers individuals a chance to invest in themselves and a better future.    The Tenderloin is excited about the prospect of two new groups joining this community: NEXMAP, a multidisciplinary arts organization, and Zambaleta, a world music school.  Stay tuned for updates on our progress as we work with these great organizations in an effort to establish them in the neighborhood.

A recent addition to the art scene, the Tenderloin Community Benefits District (CBD) has hosted art openings, concerts and in September, the CBD will be debuting Wonderland, a fascinating public art project.   A joint venture between an internationally-prominent curator, international artists, local artists, and community-based organizations, Wonderland will showcase the capacity of the arts to deliver educational, civic engagement, and community economic development dividends all at the same time.  

The arrival of groups like Gray Area Gallery is having a profound impact on real estate development in the Tenderloin.    The Gray Area Gallery is poised to open its doors on Taylor Street this fall.  Its opening will represent the conversion of a dead, destructive void into vibrant, active commercial space, a significant contribution to the neighborhood.  By economic development measures, it will also help generate traffic for Farmer Brown and the friendly Brazilian family that took a chance on an empty restaurant space next door (if you haven't had Brazilian flan, let Tony know and he'll take care of you).

And if you're strolling on Ellis Street, you'll come across a beautiful urban sanctuary that's part art project, part human development project, part public space development project:  the Luggage Store's Tenderloin National Forest.  It is a brilliant example of art reclaiming neglected, "throw away" space and changing it to a dynamic community space. 

And there's more

In addition to all the great organizations listed above, the Tenderloin is a showcase of some of the finest Asian restaurants in all the Bay Area (make sure to budget time to get through the line at Saigon Sandwich) and a must-visit destination for foodies.    Heart of the City Farmers Market is one of the coolest experiences of urban meets rural any visitor will find anywhere.  If you're an urbanist (or just like cool buildings), there's block after block of beautiful and historically significant architecture (thirty-three blocks of the Tenderloin were recently added to the National Register of Historic Places).

Still, with all this going for it, the best part of the Tenderloin is its people.   I feel fortunate:  I get to work with smart, creative, dedicated people on a daily basis.  My local community arts advisory group.   Local CBOs.  Supportive foundation program directors and officers.   Public servant allies in City Hall.   San Francisco's banking community.  We are all working on crafting a strategy toward investing in the future of a sustainable, balanced, and healthy Tenderloin. 

The Invisible Tenderloin

Some readers may be wondering when I'll discuss the open-air drug dealing or public drunkenness, the common area of focus by the media.  My thought is that we've all heard about this ad nauseam.  Aren't we tired of it yet?    Spend some time in the Tenderloin and you'll discover there are thousands of low income residents living in protected affordable housing apartments that are very tired of it.  They are the families with children - did you know the Tenderloin is home to 4000 children? -  the senior citizens, the people living on disability benefits. 

Are we finally ready to see the "invisible" Tenderloin? The Tenderloin's sidewalks are being tended to by the CBD and the San Francisco Clean City Coalition; TEDP, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hilton Hotel and the magnificent Asian Art Museum are collaborating on a Tenderloin Culinary Arts Visitors Package;  prominent public art installations are going up; UC Hastings recently completed construction of brand new commercial space, the first introduced in the neighborhood in years; the development of the Uptown Tenderloin History Museum is moving forward; the YMCA of San Francisco has committed to building a state-of-the-art new YMCA in the Tenderloin; the kids attending De Marillac Academy have a graduation rate of  100%; landscaping/greening projects are underway; art venues are seeing an increase in patrons and expanding their facilities; landing a weekend reservation at one of the Tenderloin's highly rated restaurants is getting increasingly difficult.  So the answer appears to be yes.  These developments in concert are exerting increasing pressure on the negative factors in the streets, a triumph that will ultimately make the community livable again for its many low-income residents who want the right to enjoy their own neighborhood like anybody else. 

On that note, buy your tickets and call for your reservations early.   The Tenderloin is on its way back to being a great arts and culture destination for residents and visitors alike.    

Let's all wish a Happy Independence Day to the Tenderloin. 

Cheers,

Elvin