Adaptive Re-Use at Ghirardelli Square

Once home to headquarters for the late 19th-century chocolatier of the same name, Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco became the nation’s first large scale adaptive re-use project in 1964.

But when JMA Ventures acquired it in 2003, the landmark public square near Fisherman’s Wharf had taken a turn for the worse. “At the time it was more touristy, with T-shirt shops and offices,” says Kevin Morgan, VP of Acquisitions and Finance at the real estate investment firm.

Working with designer Hugh Firestone and architects Hornberger + Worstell, the firm transformed a series of 1960s offices into a five-star private residential club that’s now known as Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square.

“We sell fractional private residences,” he says. “You buy a tenth of a deed, and use it at Fairmonts anywhere in the world, 35 days a year.”

The timing for its opening was, however, unfortunate. “2008 was not the best time to launch a discretionary product,” he says.

Still, the residences – 1,200 square feet on average, with views of the Bay – have sold about 55 percent of their availability. And two years ago, JMA sold the rest of the retail space on the square to Jamestown Properties, developer of Chelsea Square in New York, Ponce City in Atlanta and Industry City in Brooklyn. The firm proceeded to raise the retail bar substantially.

“Our strategy was to do more food retailing and bring in the locals from San Francisco, with a bakery, a juice bar, a California winery, and a Waxman restaurant from Oakland,” says Michael Phillips, president at Jamestown. “We wanted to create an environment for the community, where the tourists can come along.”

Like the James W. Rouse Company before it, Jamestown is engaged in large-scale place-making, with an emphasis on building community. “We got our inspiration from the food culture and what California offers,” he says. “We listened to local consumers and families – and we put a nursery school in the building.”

Now that’s a serious finger on the pulse of the community.

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