A walk down the Tenderloin’s Market Street is like a stroll through a futuristic, corporate enclave. The street now serves as a home to tech companies Zendesk, Zoosk, Wework, Uber and Square. On the floors above the famed rock concert venue the Warfield Theater you can find Spotify and Match.com. At Ninth and Market, in the art deco former Furniture Mart building, is Twitter’s global headquarters. What was once a stretch of shabby or abandoned structures is now home to fully-outfitted office buildings and hordes of fresh-faced tech workers.
The Tenderloin has welcomed a half-dozen large tech companies over the past nine years; businesses like Uber, Twitter, Yammer, Zendesk, Zoosk, Spotify, Microsoft and Square have a sizable presence here, as well as numerous smaller start-ups. Prospering tech companies who’ve settled here have brought millions in additional revenue to the city, and the industry is credited with adding over 10,000 jobs to the greater Tenderloin area during the last decade.
Twitter kicked off the Tenderloin’s tech craze when it chose the area in 2011. It revamped its historic 1930’s home, outfitting it with lavish amenities like a roof garden, state-of-the-art cafeteria, five kitchens, a game room, and a yoga-and-pilates studio. In 2013, Spotify moved from a co-working space in the Financial District to fill three floors of the Warfield building, which had long stood empty. Wework exists among a bevy of small businesses on Taylor Street. Many Tenderloin tech companies have taken up residence in buildings that were formerly vacant, or at least in need of some serious TLC and, as a result, the Tenderloin’s downtown area has undergone a major revitalization.
Offering affordable rents for businesses and employees alike, the Tenderloin has proved a perfect fit for the companies. But the area is attractive for reasons beyond monetary considerations. These fast-growth, high-powered companies are increasingly hiring young software developers and other techies who prefer city-living over the suburban cushiness of Silicon Valley. And the Tenderloin is about as centrally located as it gets. Union Square is to the east, Nob Hill to the north, and Civic Center and the Van Ness corridor are to the west. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s easily accessible by multiple forms of public transportation, too.
Corporations inhabiting the Tenderloin are also provided with a unique opportunity to “give back” by engaging directly with the community. Tech giants and startups that are committed to social responsibility have enjoyed working with local nonprofits on urban renewal projects and employee volunteerism, and many have pledged to hire locally and further diversify their workforce.
In 2015, Del Seymour, affectionately known as the unofficial “mayor of the Tenderloin,” founded Code Tenderloin, an organization that partners with area tech companies to mentor and train long-time residents for IT or customer service roles. So far, Code Tenderloin has placed several hundred graduates in positions at companies like Twitter, Zendesk, Spotify, AirBnB and Wework. Such initiatives have ensured that, despite the changing face of the Tenderloin, the neighborhood’s new residents are committed to true citizenship in the neighborhood, rather than displacement of existing residents.
The Swedish software company Zendesk, which landed in the Tenderloin in 2009, is largely credited as one of the most ardent community supporters and has served as a model for corporate participation in outreach efforts. The company’s ethos holds that supporting local residents in need is equally as important as product development and revenue generation. Its CEO volunteers at a local soup kitchen, and employees regularly show up to work early so that they’re able to volunteer throughout the workday. It hosts monthly events for neighborhood children and approximately 93 percent of its San Francisco-based workforce volunteer within the community.
The influx of techie residents enjoy cultural activities to rival any other neighborhood in San Francisco. The Tenderloin is home to one-of-a-kind attractions like A.C.T’s Strand Theater, the wacky International Museum of America, and the Warfield Theater, and its top-notch gastro-destinations include The Market, Dirty Water, and an assortment of Vietnamese hot-spots.
As Tenderloin continues to transform into a hyper-urban, hip alternative to Silicon Valley, expect to see more tech companies flocking to the area, more 20-somethings prowling the streets, and more great bars, restaurants and attractions opening as a result.