As subway construction drives away customers, SF debates helping businesses

 By Rachel Swan : sfchronicle – excerpt

It’s lunchtime, but the tables are empty at Oasis Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant that sits next to a bulldozed gully at Fourth and Howard streets in San Francisco. Several blocks to the north, work crews are jackhammering outside the stores of Union Square.

And farther north in Chinatown, shop owner Nancy Cai wipes away tears, lamenting the customers she’s lost since the city started building the Central Subway, which ends at a station under construction at Stockton and Washington streets.

While the $1.6 billion line is expected to bring a flood of development and tourists when it opens in 2019, some of the businesses along its route might not survive to see those benefits.

“It’s like a 60 percent drop” in business, said Cai as she surveyed her stock of traditional gowns, toy cable cars and other souvenirs languishing on the shelves of Nancy’s Fashion….

Peskin is proposing a controversial plan that centers on Chinatown but would affect the entire city: create an “impact zone” around Stockton Street, and offer financial assistance to businesses within the perimeter. Similar zones could be applied to other big projects….

Maybe there’s a solution other than handing out cash, Yee said. He suggested the city could provide indirect subsidies for these businesses, like exempting them from annual registration fees, gross receipts taxes or payroll taxes.

Peskin said Yee’s tax-exemption approach interests him, with the caveat that “the benefits being discussed (must) directly help small-business owners.”

Over the last few weeks, San Francisco’s infrastructure boom and its side effects have become a topic of interest at City Hall. Several officials, including Lee, are walking the political tightrope of celebrating new infrastructure, while wanting to protect small businesses… (more)

Peskin’s proposal has created a quandary for Lee, who has deep ties to Chinatown but who also has a responsibility to do what’s best for the city: fix potholes, replace old sewers and try to keep project costs as low as possible. Peskin has forced him to pick a side: set what could be a costly precedent, or appear to turn his back on the Chinese community by not providing assistance during construction of the Central Subway…

Lee has begun meeting with the heads of various city departments — Public Works, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Municipal Transportation Agency — to come up with their own plan, apart from Peskin’s, to subsidize businesses during long-term construction.

“This could include setting aside a percentage of the project budget to fund a suite of additional support for businesses and neighborhoods,” Canale said. “Those dedicated (city) funds would provide on-the-ground support dedicated to quickly identifying concerns and solutions, marketing strategies, additional street cleaning, and other services.”

Such a program apparently would differ from Peskin’s in that it would include no direct payments to businesses…(more)

Additional street cleaning and marketing strategies – where have we heard that one before? Whoever suggested that as a remedy for lost customers due to construction obviously has not experience running  business. How will clean streets entice customers when there are piles of construction materials outside the door and the air is full of load noise and dust and huge trucks block the view of you door?

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