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Japantown: It's Complicated

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[Japan Center Owners, via SF Planning Department; Click to open in a new window]

Japantown's Japan Center may be one of San Francisco's best examples of of warring agendas- quiet, discreet and always polite, but worthy of a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Built in 1968 as a trade center, it's a shopping mall built around a city-owned park (Peace Plaza) and over a city-owned garage, with a design that's a legacy of its time- bleakly mid-century, an inward-looking and confusing plan, and with almost no street presence. Bright spots are good sushi, the Kabuki baths and the Kabuki Theaters; destinations, but having little cross-pollination with the rest of the complex. Retail is grim, aside from a grocery store where only Japanese is spoken, but no anchor retailer- we're looking at you, Uniglo. Various plans have been hatched around it, with an oval, 38-story residential tower which went nowhere and the J-Pop project across the Street, which morphed into the Viz. When the part of the retail property was sold in 2006 to a private Los Angeles, non-Japanese owner, the city extracted covenants that included requiring them to not resell it for fifteen years and retain the Japanese gestalt.

Now there's a proposal from the "Japantown Task Force" to take over part of the property as a Community Land Trust- which apparently would release the current owners from their no-sell clause- and redevelop a more friendly, open Japanese urban center. The biggest change seems to be opening Peace Plaza up to Geary Boulevard and Post Streets and flanking it with outdoor cafes and using LED displays to make the bulky structure more attractive, plus somehow doing something to prop up the depressing Buchanan Street Mall, a pedestrian street from Post to Sutter. The Japantown Task Force will present some of this at the Planning Commission meeting tomorrow, and admit they have no financing, a developer, or strong indications that the current owners are willing to sell.
· Japantown Plans Revealed [Curbed SF]
· Construction Watch: The J-Pop Center's Exoskeleton [Curbed SF]
· Inside Uniqlos New Massive Fifth Avenue Global Flagship [Racked NY]

[We're having difficulty linking to the Planning Department's .pdf for this- a link will go up when available. --PF]

Japantown, San Francisco, CA