SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The San Francisco Bay Area’s three wholesale produce markets could use a crystal ball.
The Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco, landlocked by its commercial and industrial neighbors, continues to search for expansion opportunities, said Primo Repetto, manager.

“We’re always talking to neighbors who might be willing to sell,” Repetto said.

There have been no takers, but Repetto, who has been with the terminal since its founding, remains hopeful, he said.

A 10 minute drive up the freeway from Golden Gate, management and tenants at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market are guardedly optimistic about future expansion and modernization.

There is little optimism, however, across the bay at the nearly century old Franklin Street Market in Oakland.

The City of San Francisco-owned Wholesale Produce Market may be on the verge of a new era.

“We’ve just submitted to the board of supervisors a comprehensive fiscal responsibility and feasibility report,” said Michael Janis, general manager of the Wholesale Produce Market.

The report was two years in the making, he said.

Growing pains are a symptom the San Francisco facility shares with its southern colleague, but the report does not focus solely on acquiring additional real estate, Janis said.

“The report examines what we can do with the existing site,” he said. “The goal is to ensure continuing infrastructure to the existing and future market tenants.”

Municipal government decisions on the market’s future could be months away. In the interim, the market is not willing to rest on the report’s laurels.

“We’re encouraging input from everyone in the produce distribution chain,” Janis said.

The San Francisco market’s location is a major advantage to its continuing operation. It is tucked between two major freeways and just minutes from downtown San Francisco, the North Bay and the East Bay — and no more than an hour’s drive from fresh produce customers located at the farthest reaches of the San Jose area.

Perhaps even more important is how the market is viewed by the landlord, the City of San Francisco.

“The city continues to be very supportive,” Janis said.

The market and its more than two dozen tenants also have proved to be a viable testing ground for city and county operations. The market launched a pilot project for green waste several years ago, Janis said.

“That project reduces the annual cost of dumping fees by $100,000,” he said.

As a result of the project, all businesses in the county will be required to have designated bins for trash, recyclable materials and green waste starting in January 2010, Janis said.

Other efforts at the Wholesale Produce Market are aimed at reducing energy consumption.

“We’re constantly looking for alternative sources of energy,” Janis said.

The prognosis for the ancient Franklin Street Market is not at all rosy. Some major tenants, such as Bay Cities Produce Co. Inc., San Leandro, and Grant J. Hunt Co. fled the market in recent years. Plans to relocate the market have come and gone.

The market’s ocean view has spurred redevelopment in the form of high-rise condominiums and offices. When the economy recovers, more invading structures are expected to squeeze into the neighborhood, tenants said.

As recently as July, the Oakland City Council approved a one year negotiating agreement with a developer that is aimed at relocating the city’s product market.

The agreement targets a plan to add warehouse and other facilities to a city owned parcel of land once part of the Oakland Army base.

The problem is the city has no money, and developing a new produce market on the one time military base could be years in the future.

Money is a key reason why there’s municipal government support for the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.

Supplying fresh produce to the Bay Area’s myriad restaurants is a critical link in the tourism industry chain, Janis said.

There also is the payroll for the market’s 600 workers, he said. A portion of those checks is reinvested through purchases at businesses throughout San Francisco County.

The market further polishes its positive image in the business community by donating annually several million pounds of produce to area food banks, Janis said.