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Real estate firm tries to rebrand Tenderloin “Union Square West” (again)

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What if Union Square becomes “Tenderloin East” instead?

Is the Tenderloin really as “gentrification proof” as its reputation? We may soon see, as high-end real estate investment firm JLL sets its sights on some Tenderloin prospects. Or, as they refer to it, “Union Square West.”

That would-be nickname isn’t new, and for fairly obvious reasons it’s never caught on before. But JLL’s sales materials insist things have changed now, with the city’s population and economy booming.

That creates opportunities for high-end boutiques, but it also generates problems, driving Union Square rents so high you’d need an oxygen tank to dare their summits (as much as $700/square foot, JLL says).

Many longtime tenants of the Union Square shopping district and even more prohibitively expensive Maiden Lane have moved on. For anybody with an eye on a better deal, the blocks just to the west might beckon.

JLL tells potential customers that Union Square is “expanding,” and that the area around “Mason, Sutter, Jones, and Market, is shifting toward a consumer that loves art, design, craft cocktails and beer, live entertainment, and is eager to pay premium prices.”

Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, acknowledges in a Beyond Chron editorial that this is true, but takes umbrage with the attempt to rebrand the blocks. New businesses there are “doing quite well being identified with the Tenderloin,” Shaw writes.

(JLL has not yet returned our calls asking for comment, but we’ll update you if they do.)

The Tenderloin’s timelessness is something of an illusion. New development, much of it market rate housing, is already on the way to the neighborhood, and some of it is finished and leasing by now.

But making the “Union Square West” moniker stick would mean a more profound change than just new buildings or even new neighbors. It would mean changing the way San Franciscans think about those blocks—and disarming the reflexive hostility that a lot of people show toward anything perceived as an attempt to change its socioeconomic status.