Billionaire Chris Larsen showers SF with $2M in grants for retail

Awards pay to liven up shopping districts with events, public art and street improvements

Chris Larsen (Getty, California State University)
Chris Larsen (Getty, California State University)

Tech billionaire Chris Larsen is giving money to Downtown San Francisco to help its ailing shops.

Larsen, angel investor and co-founder of locally based Ripple Labs, has awarded $2 million in grants to liven up shopping districts with events, public art and street improvements, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The awards follow a call to action by Mayor London Breed, who has demanded a complete rethink of a downtown impacted by vacant offices, empty trains, shuttered stores and public drug deals.

Larsen, who had already given $1.7 million through his Avenue Greenlight nonprofit to help the city bounce back from the pandemic, stepped up. 

He handed out grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 to neighborhood merchants associations now organizing the Fillmore Jazz Festival, concerts in Dogpatch and art walks in the Castro and Outer Richmond.

He gave money to help replace the Castro’s iconic rainbow flag.

And he awarded funds to install street lights in Jackson Square, on Grove Street near Civic Center and on Jessie Street next to Sixth Street — all in hopes of making the three areas feel safer for nighttime strollers.

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Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a nonprofit that teaches low-income residents how to start their own businesses, also received a Larsen award to create murals around Fifth Street in South of Market.

The program seeks to fund hyperlocal efforts with quick turnaround times, Larsen previously told the Chronicle.

“We’ve really been taken by how efficiently these merchant associations have gotten the biggest bang for the buck,” he said in March.

Larsen has paid to install more than 1,000 private security cameras across the city to bolster public safety.  He has donated $25 million to his alma mater, San Francisco State University.

A native of San Francisco, Larsen founded fintech firm E-Loan in 1996 and later co-founded Ripple, a blockchain-based payments firm based in the city. He’s worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.

A year ago this month, Ripple announced it would pull up stakes from the Financial District and relocate to the Embarcadero.

— Dana Bartholomew

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