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The Affordable Space Locator Service
By Cheryl Parker, Economic Development Specialist, South of Market
Foundation and Pablo Monzon, Principal, GIS Planning

The South of Market Foundation (SOMF), a nonprofit economic development corporation in San Francisco, California, working with GIS Planning, developed an application that assists small businesses in locating commercial space in San Francisco's South of Market area (SoMa). This application uses ArcView GIS to provide detailed spatial information for SoMa, for individual neighborhoods within SoMa, for a quarter mile around a given space and generates a detailed space report listing.

This GIS-based local economic development tool integrates information on businesses, local economics, demographics, and transportation with property information from real estate brokers to help businesses find the best possible location. This benefits the local economy as well as the business.

San Francisco's South of Market Area and the South of Market Foundation

SoMa, a thriving, diverse neighborhood in San Francisco, California, with over 9,000 small businesses, is the home to traditional manufacturing firms, artists, multimedia and film making companies, and a small residential population. With a new ballpark, convention center, the Sony Entertainment complex, and an explosion in residential development, it is also San Francisco's fastest growing neighborhood. Manufacturing companies located in the neighborhood provide a source of stable and decent-paying employment. In addition, the area has historically served as an incubator for small businesses and emerging industries.

SOMF, a nonprofit economic development corporation, is dedicated to delivering services to San Francisco's small businesses and to South of Market's residents that promote economic development that creates wealth through long-term and stable employment. SOMF analyzes changing characteristics of the economy and targets services to meet the capital and workforce needs of SoMa companies. An ArcView GIS-based parcel-level database that links information about buildings, residents and businesses to parcels is central to SOMF's services.

The Affordable Space Locator Service

The Affordable Space Locator Service (ASLS) is a commercial listing service for small businesses trying to find space that both fits their needs and is affordable in the SoMa section of San Francisco's rapidly changing real estate market. ASLS was built on top of SOMF's ArcView GIS parcel-level database using Avenue and the new Dialog Designer extension. The dialogs allow the user to select a space based on a range of criteria, to enter the client information, and to add or delete a space to the database. This application uses Microsoft Access to generate customized business reports.

The ASLS helps entrepreneurs find suitable locations for their offices, stores and industrial businesses by focusing on both leasing and sales opportunities in commercial real estate. SoMa is not covered in a comprehensive way by brokers. The ASLS database contains information and photographs of available spaces along with economic, demographic, transit, parking, and development data.

The ASLS works by searching a regularly updated database of commercial spaces based upon a list of criteria defined by a client. It generates several written reports, tables, and maps providing detailed information about the immediate context and the selected spaces, and summarizes this information for easy comparison. A referral list of brokers who support ASLS is also included.

Looking for a Space

The application allows the user to determine available spaces in the area according to given criteria. The user inputs the size of the space, the type of building, whether purchasing or renting, the maximum price or rent, and the preferred neighborhoods. If the user is seeking rentable space, the program will prompt the user for specifications on the lease term, lease type, and location in the building. The system accepts multiple answers or "it does not matter" as an answer.

Based on the request, the program returns the number of spaces that match the criteria and locates them on the map. The available space database is updated monthly and users are able to run the same request repeatedly at intervals without having to reenter the desired characteristics in the request. All the information about the client and the request criteria are saved in a database. Dialogs created with the ArcView GIS Dialog Designer extension makes these features very easy to use.

Creating a Report

The user can also create reports about the selected spaces, the surrounding neighborhood, and a summary of businesses. The user can get a list of the businesses by business category, a summary of the different business types within a quarter of a mile of the space (a five-minute walk), a demographic and economic report of the neighborhood, a quick comparison of the selected spaces, and a detailed description of the space including a photograph if one is available. A single menu allows the user to create all these reports in a few minutes and automatically exports some reports to Microsoft Access for formatting into a nice-looking document.

The ASLS lists most commercial properties available for lease or sale in SoMa, obtained through an established network of brokers and property owners. The ASLS includes information and photographs of these properties and is updated bimonthly. In addition to listing information, the application provides detailed information about local economics, demographics, neighborhood amenities, transportation, and parking around each location. Additional information provided by ASLS provides entrepreneurs with a clear picture of other types of businesses within a five-minute walk of each location. This information may be critical for businesses that depend upon certain types of supplies or services.


The application also includes a menu for creating maps. The user can create a map showing the location of the selected spaces in the SoMa, as well a detailed map of the neighborhood where each of the spaces is located. These maps include the amenities of the area such as parking or banks as well as bus routes.


SOMF staff update available space information every month. A dialog was created for entering space information. A parcel number is assigned to the given address based on a special database that includes the addresses and parcel numbers for the entire area. Broker contact information, lease terms, and descriptions of the building and space can be easily entered. In the same way, a dialog was designed for deleting spaces that are no longer available. Users can organize the spaces by address, broker's name, or date entered.

Benefits of the Application

ASLS provides "one-stop shopping" for small businesses looking for space to lease or purchase. All the information necessary to select the most suitable location for a successful small business is available through this service. As an alternative to the conventional practice of depending upon real estate brokers to select a site, ASLS provides a much wider selection of spaces than is available from any one broker. A user-friendly interface allows users with no GIS experience to select available spaces according to desired specifications, to create a map of the area, and to produce different types of reports.

Next Steps

To develop the ASLS into a viable business, SOMF must increase its exposure to clients. SOMF intends to expand the service area to encompass all of San Francisco's smaller commercial districts. There are also plans to adapt the application for use on the Internet.

For more information contact
Cheryl Parker Economic Development Specialist, SOMF
965 Mission St., Suite 705
San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel.: 415-512-9676
Pablo Monzon, Principal
GIS Planning
2220 Dwight Way, Suite 302
Berkeley, CA 94704
Tel.: 510-848-2853
E-mail: info@gisplanning.com

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