San Francisco's First Shipping Container Offices Sprout Up In SoMa

The former parking lot at 9 Freelon, just off Fourth Street, is starting to look a bit more hospitable—thanks to a shipping container that'll soon multiply and become home to a handful of creatives and retailers.

As we reported back in July, Freelon Street-based "land-sharing platform" Campsyte plans to turn this site—and other underutilized lots around the city—into temporary workspaces for small companies and storefronts for small retailers.

The company's plans to construct three stories of office and meeting space on top of ground-floor retail with gently used shipping containers are still awaiting Planning Commission approval. But a one-story prototype is now available for tours.

Renderings: Aetypic 

Inside the existing showroom you'll find a modest meeting space outfitted with plush seating and a row of open workspaces. When all is said and done, this specific shipping container will rise to the third floor, said Alex Lee, vice president of sales for Campsyte. And much of the floor plan will be dedicated to meeting space.

While shipping containers are in use around the city for commercial purposes—like PROXY in Hayes Valley and The Yard in Mission Bay—this will be the first time they've been used for offices in San Francisco, Lee said.

With short-term leases ranging from six months to a year, and all utilities and furniture already in place, Lee said they're looking to attract startups that have outgrown co-working spaces but aren't ready to lease large spaces in high-rise office buildings. A future client could potentially grow and lease the entire site one day. As a startup founder himself, Lee added that he knows how hard it is to find office space for small businesses in the city. And with the small amount of space they're adding to the market, they're not threatened by warnings of a  potential economic downturn.

So far, CMO Allen Wong says feedback from potential renters has been positive. They've even heard from people who work from home that they'd like to have such a space in their own backyards.

Conversations with retailers for the three ground-floor spaces are also going well. While they didn't name purveyors set to move in, they did explain that their short one- to two-year leases are appealing to both existing eateries interested in testing new concepts and those just getting off the ground. And if a restaurant already has access to a commercial kitchen, they could use the space just for sales.

As a platform for sharing usable space, property owners can submit their lots for consideration online. With aspirations of building a company that's profitable but also beneficial to the neighborhood, Lee says they're being choosy about the specific lots they choose to work with. Two others in the works right now are 603 Seventh St., where a four-story shipping container office complex is proposed, and 405 10th St., where a three-story project is moving through the Planning process.

Proposed shipping container complex for 603 7th St.

The Campsyte team is also in conversations with different city agencies to determine ways in which these structures could provide community benefits, like storing disaster supplies for emergency responders, Lee said.

But shipping containers aren't the be-all and end-all for Campsyte, Wong assured. They're experimenting with a variety of temporary building materials, including tipis and yurts. They actually have one yurt in storage but are still searching for a secure, dry lot to house it.

Once Campsyte gains Planning's approval for the complex at 9 Freelon, Lee estimates that it'll take four months to finish construction—hopefully by this summer. After that, it could take a couple more months for retailers to debut.

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