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City offers payments to Chinatown merchants over Central Subway

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Mayor’s office and SFMTA try to make good after years of complaints from business owners

Signs hang over the entrances to a variety of small businesses in Chinatown.
Business signs in Chinatown.
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

For years, Chinatown merchants have complained that construction of the city’s new Central Subway is bad for business.

Now, nearly ten years after the 1.7-mile extension of the T-Third Street line broke ground, City Hall promises to make up the difference. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Mayor London Breed, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced a batch of make-good provisions Wednesday to insulate Chinatown from further economic woes.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development, qualifying merchants near construction zones within the project area “will have access to funds to help make business improvements or investments” through grants of up to $10,000.

The money comes out of the city’s Construction Mitigation Fund, which was established earlier this year to relieve financial gripes tied to the long-delayed subway project.

In order to qualify, a business must be within the Central Subway construction impact zone (the area includes blocks of Washington Street, Clay, Powell, or Stockton), must be an open storefront business, and “must have been established with no change in ownership on or prior to September 30, 2015.”

Late Mayor Ed Lee proposed the $10,000 business payouts over two years ago.

Among additional benefits, SFMTA will run ads promoting Chinatown as a destination starting in 2020. The transit agency will also expand shuttle service to ferry people to and from Chinatown, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

And SFMTA says that “loading zones and a third vehicle travel lane were returned to Stockton Street between Jackson and Washington Streets, near the subway construction zone.”

Although nearby Grant serves as the public face of the neighborhood, Stockton Street is often busier; business owners complained for years that closures and traffic interruptions on Stockton over subway construction disrupted deliveries.

Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown, said that he was “happy to see the city taking Chinatown’s concerns seriously.”

The Central Subway broke ground in early 2010, after 12 years of planning.

Over budget at more than $1.6 billion, the subway line remains long delayed, originally scheduled for completion in 2018. Then 2019. Then 2020.

SFMTA now concedes that actual passenger service won’t start until 2021.