Japantown hotel owners back out of controversial plan to turn it into homeless housing

After months of community backlash, KHP Capital Partners says it will “move forward with operating the Buchanan as a tourist hotel”

KHP Capital Partners founding partner Mike Depatie and the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel (Google Maps, KHP)
KHP Capital Partners founding partner Mike Depatie and the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel (Google Maps, KHP)

Controversial plans to turn a hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown into permanent homeless housing have come to an abrupt end.

After months of community backlash, KHP Capital Partners, which owns the 131-room Kimpton Buchanan Hotel, has said it will no longer sell the building to the city, the San Francisco Chronicle reported..

“We will move forward with operating the Buchanan as a tourist hotel, and we look forward to continuing being an important part of the community for years to come as San Francisco’s economy recovers,” according to a statement from the investment group.

The hotel is one of several in San Francisco that has been turned into emergency shelter-in-place housing for those without homes during the pandemic. The city took advantage of the downturn in the hotel industry and millions of dollars in time-sensitive funds for affordable housing from the state to approve the purchase of three other hotels. Those will permanently house more than 300 homeless people and the city had its sights set on the Kimpton property as well.

Even before KHP’s announcement, the city had slowed plans to purchase the Japantown hotel. Neighborhood groups worried that turning one of the neighborhood’s only two hotels into permanent housing would hamper recovery efforts by the tourist-dependent area, where many small businesses shuttered during the pandemic.

SoMA neighbors also raised objections to the city’s desire to purchase the Panoramic apartment complex at Ninth and Mission for $86.7 million, saying that the area already had more than its fair share of social services and subsidized housing. They were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the city’s plans.

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The other buildings approved to be purchased for homeless housing, an Outer Mission motel and a Mission SRO, were chosen in part because they aren’t in the city’s downtown core, where many supportive housing projects have been placed.

In community meetings, long-time Japantown residents argued that their objections weren’t just another form of NIMBYism.

“Our concern has everything to do with saving our community’s economy and survival of Japantown’s small businesses,” Paul Osaki, who has lived in Japantown for six decades and is executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, told the Chronicle.

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents Japantown, sent the city a letter last month asking it to consider two other hotels whose owners had expressed an interest in selling and are within a few blocks of the Kimpton Buchanan.

“What is the impact of losing the Buchanan as a tourist hotel to the future survival of Japantown?” he asked. “How can we as a city plan with, not over, the Japantown community to address potential issues?”

Thus far, the city has only said that it’s continuing its search to find more hotels to buy, but not which ones they might be.

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