Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Umpqua Bank, Philz plans for Castro locations add to debate over gayborhood’s business climate

umpquaUmpqua Bank is proposing to open a Castro branch in the space that now houses Magnet, the gay men’s health clinic, but faces opposition from those who question the need for another financial institution in the heart of the city’s gayborhood.

In early 2015 Magnet is expected to relocate around the corner from its current home at 4122 18th Street into an expanded health center that the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, of which the clinic is a part, is building on the 400 block of Castro Street.

As seen in the artist’s rendering at right, the bank intends to reskin the 18th Street building, which is adjacent to a city parking lot, and upgrade the facade and entrance way. It also is proposing to work with the community to install a mural on the side of the structure fronting the parking lot entrance and possibly install a new structure for local organizations to post their posters.

“It would be a total remodel of the building,” said Lani Hayward, the executive vice president of creative strategies at Umpqua Bank.

The bank, which has a branch in Noe Valley on 24th Street next door to the Whole Foods, is looking to partner with Castro community groups that need office space to utilize two rooms it will not need in the second floor of the 18th Street building.

In order to activate the space as Magnet has done, by hosting forums and art gallery openings, Umpqua is proposing to do the same once it moves in and is planning to have a lobby area that can easily be rearranged to host meetings or events.

“You are not entering a branch but into a store,” Hayward told members of the Castro Merchants group at its meeting this morning (Thursday, November 6). “It feels like a cafe not a bank. Our doors are open for you to use.”

The company, which is 60 years old, is just beginning to meet with neighborhood groups about its plans. It does not expect to go before the city’s planning commission to seek approval to open in the Castro space until sometime this spring.

It likely will face resistance from those in the neighborhood who are opposed to seeing another bank move in rather than a retailer. Many merchants are concerned that the Castro is losing its retail stores to other uses, whether it be financial or restaurant, that do not attract the same amount of foot traffic as more traditional shops do.

“We are becoming like Polk Street in the 1980s with nothing to offer people a reason to come shop during the day,” longtime Castro business owner and leader Patrick Batt said earlier in the meeting while speaking out against seeing Philz Coffee relocate its 18th Street coffee shop into a space on the 500 block of Castro Street that once housed a shoe store. “With seven banks and nine coffee shops in the Castro, people are just walking through the neighborhood. They are going to other places to shop.”

Philz Coffee wants to relocate its 18th Street location in this space on Castro Street where David Chiu had his Assembly race headquarters.

Philz Coffee wants to relocate its 18th Street location into this space on Castro Street where David Chiu had his Assembly race headquarters.

Philz will go before the city’s planning commission on Thursday, December 4 to seek approval for its relocation plans, the same day Castro gay bar owner Les Natali will be asking for sign off on his plan to open a Hamburger Mary’s in the long vacant Patio Cafe space a few doors down from where Philz wants to open at 549 Castro Street.

Owner Phil Jaber, in asking for the Castro Merchants group’s support, which it agreed to do in a 20-15 vote, argued his coffeehouse will attract people to the Castro and benefit other businesses.

“When Philz comes to the community we put the building on the map. We create more business,” said Jaber, who a decade ago opened the Castro location, his second one in what is now a company with 15 stores in the Bay Area and one in Los Angeles.

The debate over the direction of the Castro’s business environment comes as several neighborhood groups have banded together to create a retail strategy for attracting new businesses to the gayborhood to fill up vacant storefronts.

Volunteers will be out in the Castro this Saturday, November 8, and again Wednesday, November 12, asking patrons to fill out a short survey to help gather input for the project. The retail plan is expected to be presented to the public sometime next summer.

— Matthew S. Bajko, November 6, 2014 @ 1:44 pm PST
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