Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on April 09, 2016
New Art Installations, Street Banners Coming Soon To The TenderloinLarkin Street near Little Saigon, where a new art installation will soon light up. (Photos: Tenderloin Community Benefit District)

Last week, we reported that the Tenderloin Community Benefit District has raised $100,000 to fund a program they're calling Operation Leadership. As a result, the Tenderloin will be getting a crop of new security cameras.

But neighborhood beautification is also a key component of Operation Leadership, and the CBD is preparing to roll out two new initiatives.

First, there's the Larkin Street Lighting project. The CBD is selecting artists to create a light installation within three blocks on Larkin Street—from McAllister to Eddy. Four spots are under consideration for the project; the installations would be visible from several blocks away, and interactive.

One public space up for consideration is the side of the Phoenix Hotel, where a mural attached to the hotel's parking lot faces Larkin Street. The Tenderloin People's Garden, a community garden started by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, could be another spot. Two other potential areas are located next to the Federal Building and Kahn & Keville Tire Shop. 

The Tenderloin Community Benefit District's map of potential installation locations.

Steve Gibson, the CBD's interim executive director, said the organization wanted the artwork to attract more people into the neighborhood and especially to storefronts around Larkin Street and Little Saigon.

Little Saigon, a two-block stretch of Larkin Street between Eddy and O'Farrell, is known for its Vietnamese-American community of residents, restaurants and shops. While the TLCB states on its project website that business activity in the corridor has been increasing since 2006, it also notes that the area struggles to lure in Civic Center crowds, in addition to ongoing problems with cleanliness and safety.

Going deeper into the challenges facing Little Saigon's businesses, the Chronicle reported last December that many longtime Vietnamese restaurants are closing due to high rents and other economic difficulties. On the contrary, Randy Shaw—co-founder and director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic—criticized the Chronicle's bleak outlook on Little Saigon, and rounded up all of the new investments and businesses coming to the area.

PG&E's Larkin Street substation, where street vendors regularly congregate and trash often builds up.

Regardless of the ongoing debate over the health of the small business corridor, Gibson said the CBD wants the light installations to help build upon the neighborhood's character and create more awareness of Larkin's storefronts.

"We want to figure out how to create a reason for people to interact with the [Larkin Street businesses]," said Gibson of the lighting. “It’ll be really interesting to see some wild ideas people come up with."

A call for proposals is now live and the submission period will end May 8th. Over the following month, five finalists will be chosen to present their concepts to the community on May 30th. The CBD will then work with the designers of the chosen project(s) to finalize plans, with the goal of installing the artwork as soon as this August.

The projected budget is about $100,000. Our City, a nonprofit based in Oakland, is one of the sponsors.

In addition to lighting up Larkin Street, the CBD is also preparing to replace street banners around the neighborhood. While the new designs are in the early stages of development, one central theme the CBD is considering is how the signs can communicate and define the Tenderloin’s character.

The 70 street banners previously placed around the neighborhood have been up for seven years or more. Some deteriorated banners remain, while others have been taken down.

As we previously reported, the $100,000 the CBD received for Operation Leadership came from the Mayor's Office of Workforce and Economic Development, Saint Francis Foundation and Shorenstein Residential. But fundraising will continue with the hopes of raising $325,000, Gibson said.

Meg Spriggs, a managing director with Shorenstein Residential, said her company supported Operation Leadership because of its potential to create a “vibrant community.”

“We believe these are the kinds of improvements that will help the community and improve the quality of life for all that live and work in the Tenderloin,” she said via email.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Larkin Street Lighting project is welcome to attend an April 20th information session with the TLCBD at the Tenderloin Museum.