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SF Mayor Breed Unveils Action Plan to Enliven Union Square and Yerba Buena Districts

Contact: Mayor’s Press Office,

SF Mayor Breed Unveils Action Plan to Enliven Union Square and Yerba Buena Districts

The plan is a component to the Mayor’s broader Budget that prioritizes continued investment in revitalization efforts to reimagine San Francisco’s premier retail and hospitality district 

4 June 2024 – San Francisco, CA: Mayor London N. Breed today released an action plan that will focus on new and continued investments to revitalize the City’s hospitality, entertainment, arts and culture, retail and tourism areas (HEART) in premier retail and hospitality districts of Union Square and Yerba Buena. 

The action plan contains a series of specific actions supported by legislation and public funding, including new investments in the Mayor’s proposed budget that will be led by the Office of Economic and Workforce and Development (OEWD). 

The Union Square and Yerba Buena neighborhoods are a destination for almost half of all visitor travel to San Francisco, home to half of the City’s hotel rooms, over 3.5 million square feet of retail space and numerous museums, theaters and performance venues which celebrate San Francisco’s renowned arts and culture. Union Square Park and Yerba Buena Gardens offer iconic public spaces for people to gather and celebrate, and the area is well served by transit, home to the Powell Street BART and Muni station, historic Powell/Hyde cable car lines, and two new Central Subway stations offering rail connections from Chinatown to Mission Bay and the southeast.    

Challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have both heightened and accelerated many trends, including the changing nature of retail and a shift to online shopping. These ongoing changes, combined with hybrid work, suburban competition, and a protracted recovery in tourism, have impacted the number of workers and visitors downtown, leading to storefront vacancies and declining foot traffic. Still, the number of new openings is outpacing the rate of closures happening in the Union Square and Yerba Buena neighborhoods.  

The Mayor’s action plan is designed to counter these trends and leverage positive ones like new restaurant and retail openings and civic events. 

“San Francisco is in the midst of a shift and the momentum we’re seeing is exciting for the City, but we have more work to do including how we reimagine the evolution of Union Square and Yerba Buena neighborhoods,” said Mayor London Breed. “San Francisco is 100% committed to investing in creative ways to bring more fun and options to the City’s most trafficked destinations that draw people from across the City and around the world. We thank our community partners who are working with us on a stronger, more vibrant San Francisco.”  

“The Union Square & Yerba Buena neighborhoods are often the first stop for visitors and tourists; they should be a center of activity for residents as well,” said Sarah Dennis Phillips, Executive Director for the Office of Economic Workforce and Development. “These actions and investments will help make that visit a top-notch experience, yielding ongoing returns in visitation and economic development over the long-term.” 

Building on Mayor Breed’s Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future, this Action Plan will address these challenges head-on, through the following key initiatives and investments:  

Create Bustling Public Spaces: 

  • Reimagine Powell Street, including the Powell Cable Car turnaround, to serve as a premier retail and hospitality destination, and pursue public space improvements on Hallidie Plaza and Maiden Lane. 
  • Pursue the establishment of additional entertainment zones, which allow restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption during outdoor events and activations, to bring vibrancy to the streets. 
  • Make Union Square Park a lively destination at all times with a robust year-round calendar of daily public events and activations for everyone to enjoy. 
  • Continue successful marquee events that are bringing thousands of people into the area such as Winter Walk, Union Square in Bloom, UNDCSVRD block parties and SF Live concerts. 

Build Active and Vibrant Storefronts:

  • Develop a Vacant to Vibrant program for the unique conditions of Powell Street, matching new businesses with empty storefronts as longer-term pop-ups. 
  • Implement a small business and activation plan that fosters a burgeoning Filipino business district and cultural hub in Yerba Buena by cultivating small businesses, entrepreneurs, and events. 
  • Launch a Powell Street Marketing and Leasing Campaign to generate leasing success for the corridor as a whole.   
  • Provide direct leasing support for small businesses and high touch permit navigation and support for food, beverage, retail, and entertainment establishments.  
  • Work directly with building owners and tenants to support existing stores, like Macy’s Union Square.  

Ensure Downtown is Clean, Safe, and Easy to Navigate: 

  • Launch 24/7 neighborhood-based security presence to ensure a consistent, visible safety presence reinforced by proactive intervention and crisis response support.  
  • Continue the Downtown successful Welcome Ambassadors program to guide tourists with wayfinding, business recommendations, and other services. 
  • Continue enhanced SFPD foot patrol and mobile command unit, and the Safe Shopper and targeted retail theft campaigns. 
  • Illuminate key pedestrian passages to connect visitor destinations and build an enhanced sense of place with overhead lighting. 
  • Transform vacant or inactive street-level exterior spaces into visually appealing spaces. 
  • Provide reduced-cost parking in the key City parking garages like Union Square, Ellis-O’Farrell and 5th & Mission to attract regional and local visitors to shop, dine, and patronize area theaters and museums. 

Develop Lively, Mixed-Use Upper Floors:

  • Build upon recent zoning changes that allow flexibility on upper floors in Union Square and making it easier and faster to convert commercial buildings to housing. 
  • Work with local and state leaders on legislation to provide financial incentives and permit streaming for new construction and adaptive reuse projects.     

“Union Square is the heart of San Francisco, and the city’s overall prosperity hinges on its success. As Union Square transitions into its next chapter, our community requires a comprehensive partnership with the City to move forward,” said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance. “Mayor Breed’s latest initiatives address several critical needs for our community, including enhanced public safety measures, convenient access for shoppers and visitors, and resources to attract new shops, restaurants, and experiences. With these investments, we are confident that the heartbeat of our city will remain strong and vibrant, supporting San Francisco’s overall allure for years to come.” 

“The City of San Francisco funds a myriad of programs to see SOMA Pilipinas thrive. From street activations to arts acceleration, to small business incubation, and provide free space for our community to gather and thrive,” said Desi Danganan Executive Director Kultivate Labs. “The support the Filipino Cultural district in San Francisco receives is the envy of the nation because the City believes in the impact and innovation of community lead strategies. The net results are an emerging renaissance of new Filipino businesses filling empty storefronts in SoMa choosing to make San Francisco their home base.” 

“We need partnerships between neighbors, civic organizations and the city to improve the narrative about our downtown and spur interest, economic activity and community well-being,” said Scott Rowitz, Executive Director of the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District. “This funding is a sound investment to help revitalize downtown and shore up the incredible array of arts, cultural and commercial attractions that extend from Yerba Buena to Union Square. By enhancing the street level experience through a combination of beautification, safety and community programs, we will help to attract new businesses, strengthen existing businesses and create vibrant hubs that engage workers, residents and visitors.”

“Union Square and the Yerba Buena Gardens area make up the beating heart of our city, and they are critical to our economic recovery,” said Chris Meany, Managing Partner of Wilson Meany and a prominent business leader who was instrumental in bringing several San Francisco institutions back to life, including the Ferry Building and Treasure Island, and who has helped inform efforts for Union Square’s recovery. “These historically vibrant districts are critical to bringing shoppers and conventions to the City, filling our hotels and activating our downtown.”  

“I’m thrilled that these investments will be made to ensure my business has a chance to recover and thrive once more,” said Lauren Ellis, owner of CK Contemporary Gallery. “Prioritizing a safe, vibrant and accessible Powell Street supports local business like mine, creates jobs for our residents, and gives tourists arriving downtown the first impression of our beautiful city that they deserve.” 

This plan will be supported by legislation and public funding, including already dedicated funding that is delivering results, $15 million in new investments in the Mayor’s upcoming budget, and from a $390 million bond measure for a healthy and vibrant San Francisco proposed for the November ballot. Its impact will be expanded by additional investments in the broader Downtown, including more funding for successful programs like Vacant to Vibrant, the Storefront Opportunities Grant to further fill ground floor vacancies, and the SF Shines grant program to support existing businesses.

For more information about Mayor Breed’s Union Square and Yerba Buena Action Plan, please visit this page.