Holliday Development

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA — Rick Holliday probably
has built more live-work lofts than any other developer
this side of the Mississippi River. He has taken unwanted
old buildings in some of San Francisco’s former industrial
areas and transformed them into stylish residences
sought by lawyers, doctors and other professionals.
For that reason, some people think he’s wonderful.
However, other people, especially many in the local arts
community, regard the 44-year-old entrepreneur who set
off the loft craze a decade ago as an opportunistic,
manipulative developer.
Critics complain that his best known projects –
Clocktower, 601 Fourth St. and 355 Bryant St. in SOMA
and the Arkansas Street Lofts on Potrero Hill – perverted
the city’s 1987 live-work ordinance by providing trendy
residences for people with high incomes rather than
affordable housing for artists, as was originally intended.
What they don’t realize is that the developer has helped
create 2,000 units of affordable housing – more than
almost anyone else in the entire Bay Area.
In the early days, lofts were an East Coast phenomenon.
They generally were inexpensive, but often drafty and
uncomfortable, as exemplified by the gritty space
occupied by the heroine of the movie “Flashdance.”
Holliday happened onto them during a1988 visit to New
York when he was looking for development ideas.
Holliday said he bumped into a real estate appraiser who
was selling his loft, took a tour and was amazed to find an
upscale place with a high-tech office that allowed the
owner to work from home.
“He had pooka shells and a Hawaiian shirt on, he’s in his
late 60s and he has this beautiful loft,” Holliday said.
“The guy was tanned and happy, and I felt like I’d been hit
by a bolt of lightning.”
Lofts appeared to be a concept that would work in San
Francisco. Since no one else was doing large-scale,
quality lofts, they were a niche that Holliday said would let
the little guy come in and not get “wiped out by the big

The live-work movements has spread from San Francisco
throughout the Bay Area, especially Oakland, Berkeley
and Emeryville. The first lofts costs in the $250,000
range, but some upscale units in San Francisco’s SOMA
neighborhood today carry price tags of $1 million and up.
Over the years, Holliday has developed nearly 500 lofts,
including one project under construction – the old LincolnMercury auto dealership on Van Ness Avenue. When
completed, the project will have 53 residential lofts,
50,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, a 14-
screen AMC cinema and parking for 400 cars.
The $50 million project is being co-developed with
Burnham Pacific, a San Diego-based real estate firm.
Costing $300,000 to $450,000, the lofts will be ready for
occupancy early next year.
Holliday also has projects worth a total of $200 million in
development. His success has allowed him to live
comfortably but not extravagantly. Although he has a
home in Orinda, a three-week trip to Europe this summer
with his family was his first full vacation in several years.
Holliday started his development career working out of a
telephone booth.
In the late 1970s, he was appointed director of Eden
Housing Corp., a Hayward-based nonprofit that built
housing for working-class families – taxi drivers, nurses,
school teachers. He was also Eden’s first paid employee
and initially worked from a telephone booth because his
responsibilities included finding his own office space.
Before Holliday came along, the organization had
produced only one project in 10 years, a senior residence
in Hayward.
By the time he left in 1982, Holliday had transformed
Eden Housing into the largest nonprofit residential
developer in Northern California, with approximately
1,000 units of affordable housing to its credit.
Early BRIDGE leader<
Holliday left Eden for Bay Area Residential and
Development Group, a newly formed nonprofit more
commonly known as BRIDGE Housing Corp. This time
the UC-Berkeley city planning graduate shared the title of
first employee with I. Donald Terner, his former professor
whose class in owner-built housing inspired Holliday to
undertake a career in low-income housing development.
“It was one of those really, really powerful experiences. I
saw people getting things done, and that attracted me
very strongly. Don was a significant influence,” he said.
From 1983 through 1986, Terner as BRIDGE president
and Holliday as vice president oversaw development of
more than 2,400 units of mixed-income housing – nearly

1,000 of which were set aside for people with low-tomoderate incomes.
By 1991, both figures had more than doubled, making the
San Francisco corporation one of the largest developers
of affordable housing in the nation.
Although Holliday was proud of his work at BRIDGE, he
became increasingly restless and in 1989 left to form his
own for-profit firm, McKenzie, Rose & Holliday
Development Inc.
The name was a trick to get lenders to believe they were
dealing with a professional partnership rather than one
person who had never built a for-profit project in his life.
Far from being business partners, McKenzie and Rose
are the middle names of his two daughters – Maiya
McKenzie and Ava Rose – neither of whom was out of
adolescence at the time.
Holliday didn’t have much cash for his first project – a $23
million, 85-unit project on Fourth Street, but there was lots
of equity in the Oakland home that he and his wife,
Nancy, had built by working nights and weekends.
Holliday said he took out a $100,000 line of credit on the
family home as part of the down payment. Then he kept
putting off the out-of-town owner who wanted to meet
McKenzie and Rose until the deal was finalized.
The motive for going out on his own was primarily
economic. With a wife and two children, Holliday said he
needed to earn more than he was making in the nonprofit sector.
He also wanted the challenge of trying to make it on his
own in the more rough-and-tumble for-profit world.
Relationship with Terner<
A third motive, he acknowledged, was his increasing
discomfort at finding himself in the shadow of the highly
charismatic Terner – a legend in housing circles.
The discomfort, however, was not personal. The two men
remained close friends until Terner’s death in April 3,
1996, Croatian plane crash that also killed U.S. Secretary
of Commerce Ron Brown.
“He was the godfather of my two kids. Our families did
everything together. We really were like brothers. In fact, I
was closer to him than I am to my own brothers,” said
Holliday, who was executor of his mentor’s estate.
Terner’s untimely death had a great impact on both
Holliday and BRIDGE. Holliday’s successor at BRIDGE
was Carol Gallante, who had begun her career as his
assistant at Eden. Gallante took over when Terner died,
but Holliday recognized additional help would be needed
during the period of transition. So he assumed Terner’s role as developer of a 154-unit,
low-cost, assisted-living project in the Richmond for the
Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
He also recognized a personal need to renew his own
commitment to affordable housing and offered to serve
pro bono as developer of a low-income residential
building in the Tenderloin for the nonprofit Tenants and
Owners Management Corp. In addition, he agreed to codevelop a mixed-income loft project in Emeryville with
Holliday had, in fact, never abandoned his interest in
affordable housing. Even before Terner’s death, he had
joined with Ecumenical Housing to co-develop a 101-unit
low-cost senior housing complex at the former Hamilton
Air Base in Novato.
The complex will be part of a larger development that will
include 114 market-rate town homes. They are expected
to sell for $175,000 to $250,000, making them about the
most inexpensive unsubsidized housing in Marin County.
For all his success, the reproach Holliday faced over his
earlier loft projects clearly rankles.
“Do you know how much crap I took from artists?” he
asked in exasperation during a tour of the former FordMercury showroom.
What particularly vexed him, he said, was that his first
three loft projects were in a small commercial zone
designated by the 1987 ordinance for commercial livework of any kind – not just art. His fourth – the 95-unit
project on Arkansas Street – included the only new loft
building in the city designated for artists with moderate
incomes. Those artists got 29 of the units.
The inclusion of moderate-income artists’ live-work space
on Potrero Hill did little to still objections to that project. In
fact, some people accused him of using the artists’
building to co-opt the arts community, adding the 29 units
only to deflect opposition to the overall development.
San Francisco Mime Troupe founder R.G. (Ronnie)
Davis, who had campaigned to leave the site as open
space, called him a typical manipulative developer.
“He opportunistically took the thing of protecting artists
and turned it into big bucks. Wherever there’s greenery
that might be turned into profit, the Rick Hollidays of the
world will be there,” Davis said. In addition, he pointed
out, except for five units held out as rentals, the artists’
units were sold as condominiums to people earning about
$30,000 a year. “That hardly qualifies as low income,” he
Dick Millet, president of the Potrero Boosters &
Merchants Association, objected to the project’s density,
but said he never doubted Holliday’s integrity and found
him flexible and open. “He didn’t try to dance around
things. He’s not a con man,” Millet said. Martha Senger, former executive director of Arts
Development Corp., the nonprofit organization that
sponsored the artists’ building, jumped to Holliday’s
defense. She and her board approached Holliday to
include their project in his development, not the reverse,
she said.
An artist herself, Senger praises Holliday’s efforts on her
group’s behalf. Calling him “a genius at what he does,”
she said he managed to pull together financing during the
recessionary ’90s, when lenders were reluctant to fund
any development, let alone something as unconventional
as artists’ live-work space.
“He understood at the deepest level what our cultural and
affordability goals were and hung in with us to achieve
them,” Senger said. “It’s almost impossible to put together
affordable live-work, and we couldn’t have done it without