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  • Amy Graff, SFGATE

Demolition of Goodwill on Mission Street: Gentrification or simply change?

Heavy earth-moving equipment knocked down the Goodwill store and headquarters on the corner of Mission and Van Ness streets over the weekend, spurring residents to post dramatic photos and video of the demolition on social media.

Many bemoaned the change, calling it "gentrification!"

"San Francisco no longer exists. It's been slowly tortured to death," wrote a Facebook commenter.

"Goodbye Goodwill...hello gentrification. Welcome to San Francisco!" shared a Twitter user.

Driven by tech workers and the popularity of Airbnb, gentrification is accelerating across San Francisco at a rapid pace as the cost of housing is rising in traditionally working-class neighborhoods and pushing out less-well-monied residents such as teachers, artists and old-time residents with

immigrant roots.

As a result, many have a knee-jerk reaction to shout "gentrification" any time they see a change on the city's map, but in reality gentrification is more complicated and nuanced and this brings us to the question: Is the demolition of Goodwill gentrification or simply change?

Here are the facts: The Goodwill campus at 1500-1580 Mission St. included a thrift store, donation site, truck yard, warehouse and a development center that trained its employees, which include seniors, veterans and people with disabilities and criminal backgrounds.

These services moved to Bay Street in North Beach a year ago, and now Goodwill is selling that property and moving to a newly purchased location on the northern edge of the Tenderloin not far from the former Mission Street spot, the San Francisco Chroniclereported Tuesday.

"The next executive director thought they should move back to where they were," says John Updike, the head of the City of San Francisco's Real Estate Division. "They're moving back to the edge of the Tenderloin. That's evidence in a change in leadership. I think it's great that they're moving back to their roots."

The Mission Street location is being replaced by "a 39-story apartment tower and a 16-story office tower, which will be owned by the city and house the Department of Public Works along with the Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection," according to the Chronicle.

In other words, the city is getting an office building out of the deal, and the market rate housing is cross-subsidizing the office building. Twenty percent of the housing is classified as affordable; when the deal was made the code requirement was 12 percent, according to Updike.

Goodwill was not forced out because a landlord increased the rent. The company owned the 2.5-acre property and its executive director and board at the time chose to sell it for $65 million to the privately-owned real estate firm Related California in 2014 when the city changed the zoning for the area.

"They knew they were sitting on a very valuable piece of land," says Updike. "It offered an opportunity to create an endowment."

The zoning change came in 2008 with the Market and Octavia Area Plan that calls for increasing the housing density around the Civic Center–Van Ness transportation hub with both Muni and BART stops.

"The city decided we're going to jack up the height so we can get a lot of housing down there," says the San Francisco Chronicle's urban design critic John King.

King says that everyone defines gentrification differently and he sees the demolition of the Goodwill campus as an "aspect of the larger gentrification" of the mid-Market neighborhood but he doesn't view the change itself that's happening at the Goodwill's former Mission Street location as gentrification.

"Some things are gentrification and people being upended and others are the map of the city changing," he says. "This is not the forced displacement of Goodwill and its service for low income people."

That said, King adds: "That doesn't wipe away the visceral feeling people get when they see a photo of a San Francisco building demolished. My heart breaks as the architecture critic. It's the only concrete block building built in last 25 years and it's a great, honest piece of functional architecture."

Updike concurs, saying Goodwill's move is change and not gentrification.

"I would say it exemplifies the opportunity that the hub project speaks to," he says. "We're really creating a neighborhood and we're improving city infrastructure and we're taking advantage of the infrastructure we have."

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