California Flower Market vendors comment on Kilroy proposal

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Kilroy Realty Corporation and the historically Japanese American California Flower Market unveiled plans for a renovated San Francisco Flower Mart in the city’s South of Market neighborhood Dec. 17. In a deal reached between the developer and the market’s managers, existing vendors would be offered a five-year lease during construction of the new facility and the Flower Market would continue to operate in a renovated subterranean market for at least 25 years after that.

Bob Otsuka, executive vice president and general manager of the California Flower Market, said the market has been working with individual vendors to move forward with the five-year leases. While former city supervisor Aaron Peskin objected to the plan, saying that five years was “not enough,” Otsuka disagreed. “We feel the five years option is more than enough for the new market’s construction,” he said. “The flower market also has a 25-year lease with (Kilroy) for the new facility.”

If the new development fails, Otsuka said the flower market would be saddled with an antiquated facility. He previously said the flower market lacks accessibility for vendors who ship their flowers to the market by trucks and is in need of updated equipment inside the warehouse-like market.

Steve Oku, owner of Oku Nursery Co. and president of the California Flower Market’s board of directors, said the redevelopment by Kilroy is the best option for the Flower Market. Oku said keeping the flower market in the same location is important, but cannot be done without redesigning the warehouse to suit the coming wave of redevelopment in the South of Market neighborhood. To do so, Oku said the California Flower Market negotiated with Kilroy. “We sat down to tell them, ‘Hey … you need to work with us,’” he said. “We also are talking with the city and telling them we don’t want to become an island in this neighborhood.”

“We’ve given (the merchants) a dream situation,” Oku continued. “Where else can you give a promise to not raise rents in this town? We not only have chosen not to increase rent for the past five years, we’re offering to lock the prices for five more.”

Oku, however, said it might be a while before the permits can be filed and construction can begin on the new site, but he warned if the project is stopped, it would spell sure doom for the flower market. “My grandfather started this nursery in 1902, he was an Issei florist … and I intend to continue in this business,” he said. “If this was not a good thing for the flower business, we would not do it.”

Sean Nestlerode, manager and vice president of Torchio Nursery Company, said he still had concerns with the deal. “While the California Flower Market endorsement does give hope for to a continuing flower mart, there is still uncertainty,” he said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. The plan is still a work in progress, according to Nestlerode, and he remained concerned about fair treatment among the vendors, the possible relocation during construction, and the terms for the long-term leases in the new facility.

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