Since closing in 2014, the former Big Apple Discount Center space has become one of Polk Street's most stubborn vacancies, with proposals for two different projects — a spinoff of the Twitter building's The Market and The Bazaar, an Asian-inspired grocery and night market — ultimately going nowhere.
Since plans for The Bazaar have "conclusively fallen through," Discover Polk is “working on a concept for an artistic installation over the exterior of the building, to improve the look and presence,” chief executive officer Iana Dikidjieva told us.
The CBD is also doing a bit of marketing, “working to connect the owner with folks who do the sort of concepts we believe could work in a space that large," Dikidjieva said.
But it won't be easy, she noted. The building needs a mandatory seismic retrofit, which could increase the time it remains vacant.
And because it's sat empty for so long, it's become a target for taggers — the CBD’s staff have addressed 15 instances of graffiti on the building in 2019 alone.
There's also the matter of competition. Neighbors have sought a new grocery store in the area for years, with Mollie Stone's recently announcing its intent to move into the former Lombardi Sports location at 1600 Jackson St.
The location had previously been the site of a years-long effort to move in a Whole Foods 365 store, which was ultimately rejected by the Planning Commission for an insufficient quantity of on-site housing.
Mollie Stone's, however, won't be required to obtain a conditional use permit from Planning for the space, which means it could open a new store much faster, with no housing. That would mean strong grocery competition for a new tenant in the Big Apple space, located just a few blocks away.
The two blocks of Polk Street that house the Big Apple and Lombardi buildings have the highest vacancy rates of the CBD’s entire service territory, with nearly 44% of the retail square feet vacant in the buildings fronting Polk.
That affects the other businesses on those blocks, which the CBD has made new efforts to support.
In June, Discover Polk launched an Only on Polk Summer Saturdays series, which features pop-ups, sales, and outdoor activations along Polk Street from Broadway to California Street.
The next sidewalk block party, with about 35 participating businesses, will take place on August 31.
In the meantime, the CBD is hard at work on an art installation for the Big Apple space.
“[T]he area as a whole would benefit enormously if it were to get a facelift,” Dikidjieva said.