| September 2012
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By Tim Innes
First Republic Bank is looking for a new location in Noe Valley after abruptly abandoning plans to open a branch at 24th and Sanchez streets.
The change of heart came on July 30, a day before the Board of Supervisors was to hear an appeal of the Planning Commission’s 5-2 vote in June to approve the bank’s application to convert the vacant storefront at 3901 24th St. into a banking office.
First Republic had sought to open a branch in the space, previously occupied by Tuttimelon, to attract new business and make it more convenient for neighborhood customers, who must now travel to West Portal or the Inner Sunset to do their banking. The bank said it has about 3,500 customers in Noe Valley, Eureka Valley, and the Outer Mission.
The branch would have been the sixth in “Downtown” Noe Valley, joining Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, Circle, and Sterling in the four-block stretch of 24th Street between Castro and Church streets.
“It’s a win-win situation for the neighborhood and the bank,” said 24th Street resident Leslie Crawford, who had appealed the commission’s June 14 decision in favor of the bank. She said she and other opponents had no quarrel with First Republic, but believed that there were already too many financial and real estate offices on 24th Street. She said she feared that another non-retail use on 24th Street could sap the commercial strip’s vitality.
Crawford, a co-founder of the Noe Valley Farmers Market, said that had the board upheld the appeal, First Republic would have had to wait a year before filing a new application. Now, it can go back to the Planning Department as soon as it finds a new site.
Elizabeth Street resident Peter Gabel, who spearheaded a letter-writing campaign opposing the bank’s bid, said he was glad First Republic withdrew from the Tuttimelon spot. He said the task now was to “find a lively retail tenant…that adds vitality to the community and can pay the rent, which I hope is a fair rent.”
First Republic spokesman Greg Berardi said the San Francisco–based bank planned “to work with the community to find a suitable office location that meets the needs of the neighborhood and the large number of [our] clients” in the area. He declined to comment on the reasons for the withdrawal.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who had not taken a position on the matter because of the pending appeal, said he “understood the concerns about another bank replacing a retail establishment in a very prominent location in the neighborhood.” He said he has offered to put First Republic in touch with people in the neighborhood who can suggest “locations that don’t have the same issue.”
Also offering help was attorney Robert Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. He said that while the group doesn’t take stands on such issues, he was sorry to see the storefront remain empty.
“First Republic would have been able to sign a long-term lease and bring some stability to that corner,’’ he said, noting that at least five businesses had come and gone since the mid-’90s.
Indeed, several members of the Planning Commission cited the location’s reputation as a “cursed corner” as a reason for supporting First Republic’s bid.
Riyad Robert Salma, a principal in Triterra Realty Group and a co-owner of the building, took issue with that characterization. “It’s unfair,” he said, pointing out that many businesses on the block are still feeling the effects of the closing of Real Food Company nine years ago.
Salma declined to comment on the First Republic move other than saying he was disappointed that the deal fell through. Triterra put up “For Lease” signs in late August, directing potential tenants to call 640-292-5000 for more information. Rent was $4,000 a month.
Asked what kind of tenant he was hoping for, Salma said simply: “Long-term.”