Skip to main content

Inside downtown San Francisco Ikea’s delays: Permit problems, security fears

Pedestrians walk past the long-planned Ikea on Market Street in San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

It’s been nearly three years since Ikea bought an empty Downtown San Francisco building along Market Street. Though construction started well over a year ago, exactly when the store will open remains murky. 

Furniture-hungry San Franciscans first expected the store to open in fall 2021, but construction only started in 2022. Ikea has delayed its opening several times since then, with most recent plans stating the store will open by the end of 2023. The cause for all the delays? Building permit hiccups and supply chain delays, emails obtained by The Standard through public records requests show.

Exchanges between city officials and Ingka Centres, Ikea’s parent company, show just how complicated it is to open a big-box store in the city’s struggling Downtown core. The long-awaited furniture store is slated to anchor the new Livat mall, close to the Whole Foods that shuttered in early April due to staff safety concerns. Ikea started construction on the 87,000-square-foot space in February 2022 after purchasing the empty mall for nearly $200 million in 2020. 

A security guard walks out of the under-construction Ikea on Market Street in San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Security Concerns

Security is front-of-mind for Ingka Centres, which has engaged extensively with city officials to address safety issues in the Market Street area, emails show.

Safety concerns pushed Mayor London Breed to pour millions of dollars into ambassador programs at Downtown train stations last fall. Ingka Centres was looped in on the mayor’s ambassador plan and subsequent press conference in October 2022, per emails exchanged between the company and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. 

City officials said they extended an invitation after communicating with Ikea about safety issues in Downtown San Francisco, as well as Ikea’s location on Market Street. Ingka Centres officials declined to attend the press conference, citing short notice from the city. 

In the months that followed, and as other major retailers abandoned Market Street, Ikea leaders doubled down on their efforts to plan for robust security and loop in city officials.   

A San Francisco Police Department vehicle on Market Street in San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

On May 12, Ikea and Ingka Centres representatives met with district Supervisor Matt Dorsey—a former police communications executive—to discuss safety and security concerns. Emails show city Business Development Director Laurel Arvanitidis told an Ikea spokesperson that Dorsey was working to ensure the success of Ikea’s opening and ongoing operations. 

“The supervisor has been working hard to lead on public safety and has been a strong ally to Mayor Breed in this space,” Arvanitidis added in the email. 

Permit Problems

Emails from October show Ikea representatives seemed daunted by the paperwork and permits the company would have to navigate to open their store. Ikea spokesperson Carolyn Bell contacted San Francisco officials last fall to inquire about remaining permitting timelines “in order to open the building/meeting place in 2023.”

“Since the [Department of Building Inspection] permitting review processes are currently quite lengthy, we’d love to get your thoughts on the best way to navigate the pending permitting steps,” Bell wrote in an email to SF officials in October last year. 

“DBI has diligently processed permits for the Ikea project,” department spokesperson Christine Gasparac told The Standard. “It’s my understanding that the permitting process has not delayed any anticipated Ikea opening dates, which could be confirmed separately by contacting the Ikea/Ingka team.”

By December 2022, Ikea said the city supply delays had crushed its plans to open that year, pushing the timeline back to “late spring 2023.” 

Workers are spotted inside the Ikea store on Market Street. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Building inspection officials told Ingka Centres via email the department streamlined and expedited the Livat mall’s building permits from December 2022 through February 2023, but Ikea told city officials in emails that they were “very concerned about several delays” linked to the permitting process. Those frustrations continued through April.

“Due to late permit issuance, including scope additions by DBI plan review, we’re not able to open May 10,” said Ikea Construction Manager Lydia Gartrell in an email to the economic development office dated April 26. 

Gartrell’s email to the economic development office went on to say Ikea would need its support to get permission to install retail displays and gain a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy that would allow the company to train staff on-site or face further delays in opening. The Swedish company is currently hiring in San Francisco, with part- and full-time openings listed on its website. 

Other permitting delays include building inspection officials telling Ikea officials in February 2022 that they had failed to respond to “plan check comments” submitted by city mechanical engineers around two months prior.

The Department of Building Inspection is tasked with life-safety reviews for code compliance, and any additional work required by the design team would be to bring the design into code compliance, Gasparac said.

The new Ikea will anchor the Livat mall, which will include a food hall. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Ingka Centres representatives have not confirmed when Ikea will open, but told The Standard they have reached the “final stages of construction” for the San Francisco store. The iconic blue-and-gold signage is now visible on Ikea’s glass frontage, and white storage racks and shelves can be seen on the store’s second floor. 

Building inspection officials indicated that they were not aware of any updated opening timelines. The latest company information said the store would be open by the end of 2023.

Ingka Centres acquired the Livat mall property from MSP Property LLP in September 2020 and announced at the time it expected to open the Ikea store in fall 2021. That date came and went and in July 2022, the mall’s architect, Gensler, filed plans to renovate the property for $10.6 million. It was previously known as the 6x6 mall.

“Ikea U.S. is looking forward to making the Ikea experience even more accessible and convenient for San Franciscans this year,” a spokesperson told The Standard. “We’ve been meeting and working closely with city officials who have been instrumental in making the upcoming opening happen and we are excited to share our grand opening celebration date very soon.” 

A man wearing an Ikea uniform spotted in Downtown San Francisco on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue on June 1, 2023. | Source: Ida Mojadad/The Standard

“The Office of Economic and Workforce Development continues to work with Ikea and Ingka Centres to finalize details for the Ikea San Francisco store opening date, which will be announced very soon and look forward to sharing more details on the rest of the building at 945 Market St. in the coming months,” a city spokesperson said.

Downtown stakeholders are hopeful that the new mall, with Ikea as its focal point, will help liven up San Francisco’s struggling Mid-Market neighborhood.