The 5M Project Phase I — designing place to increase innovation and creativity.

Designing the initial place-making catalyst at the former San Francisco Chronicle property for Forest City’s 2.0MM square foot redevelopment project, attracting big-tech back from suburbia.

Office is the new placemaker
In 2006 the Hearst Corporation partnered with Forest City Realty Trust to redevelop the historic San Francisco Chronicle headquarters, a 4-acres site located at 5th & Mission in the SoMa neighborhood.   The entitlement target was for 2-million square feet of office but in 2006 there were challenging constraints to likely success.  The first was the reputation of the neighborhood as unsafe and seedy, earned through relatively high crime rates.  Additionally, the trend for major employers was to locate in suburban office parks, exemplified by Apple’s and Google’s multi-billion dollar campus expansions.  If Forest City was to proceed, they would need to first prove for themselves that they could create a place magnetic enough to attract large employers despite these challenges.  But there was the catch-22 facing most developers working in burgeoning neighborhoods: the tenant needs to see a degree of progress and promise before it will commit, but to create progress and promise the developer needs a committed large tenant.  To navigate this Forest City did two things.  It launched a research project to understand how the design and location of place can improve an organization’s ability to perform.  The research included the qualitative study of more than 50 of the country’s leading tech firms, start-ups and creative organizations, as well as the review of  leading behavioral and economic thinking on what drives productivity.  (See our post on that research.)  Next, Forest City leveraged insights from that research to develop a prototype of a larger development strategy to test its ideas with relatively low risk.

Phase 1 was a 75,000 square foot prototype of artists, makers, and entrepreneurs supported by a robust calendar of event programming all curated to show how a better design of place could help make tenants more creative and more innovative.

That prototype opened in 2010 and was the first phase of the 5M Project, a thriving district of art, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.  It was seeded in approximately 75,000 square feet of the Chronicle’s historic buildings, repurposing former printing halls, offices, warehouses and surface parking lots.  Tenants included a mix of artists, makers and entrepreneurs, including Twitter, Square, TechShop, Impact Hub, and Intersection for the Arts.  The prototype was supported by a strong event program that included concerts, performing arts, craft competitions and a host of highly participatory and engaging public gatherings.  Design, tenanting and programming were all designed and curated to foster serendipitous interaction across disciplines which is ultimately the key to increasing creativity and innovation.  It’s purpose was to show how place can help make organizations and start-ups more creative and innovative.  This initial phase of the 5M Project provided the energy, community to help make the SoMa neighborhood alluring to start-ups and small tech businesses which, in turn, attract larger employers.  The next phase of the 5M Project will begin construction in 2018 and will include four 250-400 foot tall towers of both office and residential, including 220 units at 50% AMI affordability.  Forest City has not yet announced its commercial tenants.

FIX’s Role
FIX was contracted to design and lead the research for this project and was then retained to help Forest City create the underlying development strategy for the 5M Project.  FIX worked with the team to design the phased approach and project manage the creation of the first phase.  Phase 2 of the 5M Project will begin construction in 2018.

Client Forest City
Size 4-acres campus masterplan
Phase 1: 75,000 SF
Phase 2: 2,000,000 SF
Location 5th & Mission, San Francisco
Program Office, residential, office, arts & event space
Role Market research and analytics
Visioning & strategic planning
Planning & design
Project management
Impact Opportunity: Enabling diverse local start-ups with access to networks and resources.
Capacity: Organizational support to a core selection of arts non-profits, makers, and entrepreneurs.