Developer finds success in SanFran market

Posted: May 9, 2008 in success, The Brothas

Michael Johnson: Taking Urban Development to Another Level

When you mention the Fillmore Heritage Center to Michael Johnson, he smiles as he reflects on the development he helped to create. The almost one-year-old $102 million project is a mixed use housing development, which features condominiums, a parking garage, the restaurant 1300 On Fillmore, a jazz music and education non-profit organization (the Jazz Heritage Center), and Yoshi’s new San Francisco location.

This complex is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Western Addition on Fillmore Street.

“The Fillmore Heritage Center has become a legacy project for me and our company,” said Johnson. “It combines a lot of things that are important for community development in African American neighborhoods such as mixed use housing and commercial space.”

The project has helped to signal the rebirth of the Western Addition area, and is the latest urban development project in the city of San Francisco.

“This would not have happened without the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the Western Addition community,” continued Johnson. “Everyone believed that if we did not get the project built on that site that it would not happen.”

But it did, after years of project proposals and disappointments. The Fillmore Heritage Center is one of the largest projects developed by an African American developer in California.

Johnson, president and founder of EM Johnson Interest, Inc. has over 20 years of experience in urban real estate development around the country. A native of Philadelphia, Johnson studied architecture at the University of Maryland and then went on to Georgia Tech, where he got a Masters Degree in Real Estate Development.

After graduating from Georgia Tech, Johnson stayed in the Atlanta area where he worked at the Community Design Center of Atlanta, which offered free architecture services for community organizations. He then went into private business with Ron Wilson – a real estate salesman, and Richard Dagenhart – an architect, to form Wilson, Dagenhart, and Johnson, a firm that focused on urban and economic development in minority communities.

“We were together for 11 years and we worked throughout the country in Birmingham, Memphis, Dallas – with most of the focus on urban redevelopment,” says Johnson. “We worked on the Martin Luther King Historical District in Atlanta, which includes Ebenezer Baptist Church. We helped to create what is now a national park.”

After being in Atlanta for a number of years, Johnson wanted a change of pace and in 1989 began looking at various cities to move to. He decided to move to the Bay Area, where he went to work with the Neighborhood Housing Services of America, based in Oakland, which provides funding for other non-profits that develop affordable housing.

He stayed out of development for a few years, but he got back into it in1993, founding EM Johnson Interest, Inc. He would begin working on projects in various states including Oregon, Idaho, and Georgia. He did not enter the San Francisco market until 1998, when he decided to bid on the St. Regis project on Third and Mission Streets, a mixed use, housing, hotel and open space, which would eventually become the Museum of African Diaspora. (more…)


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