Noe Valley Voice February 1998

Behind the Yellow Door: All Eyes on 24th Street Complex

By Pat Rose

The noise of jackhammers, bulldozers, and trucks caused by the construction of a new retail/residential complex next to Bell Market has finally stopped. After more than a year of maneuvering through traffic tie-ups and muddy sidewalk detours around the site, neighbors and merchants alike want to know what's up at 3930 24th St., where the pale-yellow building stands quiet and empty.

The four-story building includes 5,000 square feet of street-level retail space along with 19 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. According to builder and owner Joe Cassidy, of Cassidy Construction, while half of the residential apartments have been rented out, he has yet to lease any of the retail spaces.

"We've had interest from lots of retailers -- restaurants, clothing stores, and shoe stores, but I think there are enough of those kinds of stores already on 24th Street," Cassidy said. "We don't want to compete with existing businesses."

While that sentiment is appreciated by merchants on the street, there is concern that Cassidy might put one large tenant in the space rather than three or four smaller businesses.

Robert Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, said, "Originally, Cassidy promised the merchants that there would be three to five stores" in the complex. But now that the building is finished, Roddick said, Cassidy has been ducking questions about how many shops he plans to put in.

Roddick, an attorney on Castro Street, added that the merchants' fears were fanned last month by an ad running in the San Francisco Chronicle classifieds which offered "up to 5,000 square feet of retail space" for rent in the building.

Several other 24th Street shopkeepers also grumbled about being kept in the dark. One longtime merchant, who asked not to be identified, said that after two years of inquiries Cassidy had never returned her phone calls or responded to her written queries about renting a retail space to expand her business.

When asked by the Voice how many retailers he was planning to put in the space, Cassidy replied, "Three or four." Informed of Cassidy's answer, Roddick said, "The merchants are very pleased at his response."

Cassidy also insisted that the rumors flying around the neighborhood that he might rent to a large chain store like Blockbuster Video just weren't true. "We have ruled out national chains," he said. "Most large chains want major parking and we can't provide that."

What kind of stores is he looking for? "Something different," Cassidy said. "It would be nice to see a computer store or perhaps a video store in the space."

Cassidy said he planned to charge three to four dollars a square foot for the retail spaces, depending on the tenant improvements the businesses were willing to make. Meanwhile, he expects to rent the remaining residential apartments in the next 30 days, even though the building is not quite finished.

The apartments feature high ceilings, hardwood floors, designer tile bathrooms, private decks and patios, and a parking space in the building's garage. They range in price from $1,850 a month for a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom live/work loft, to $3,500 for a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath flat with city views.

On a recent weekend, passersby stopped to study a description of the apartments posted on the front door. Most expressed shock and dismay at the prices.

"This is outrageous," said one Noe Valley renter. He added that he paid $1,325 a month for three bedrooms, one bath, and "a crazy landlord." But his own rent now looked like a bargain.

A woman who recently relocated to Noe Valley from Philadelphia was also surprised at the price. "This is really high. I'm still recovering from sticker shock for the $1,800 a month three-bedroom apartment I just rented."

One of the building's new tenants, who was moving into a one-bedroom loft, later told the Voice that while the price for his new apartment was high, it was actually cheaper than some of the other spaces he'd looked at. "I had to leave the country seven months ago, and my landlord wouldn't let me sublet my apartment in lower Pacific Heights. When I got back, I had a week to find a place," he said. "Believe me, space is hard to find."