Downtown San Francisco Still Looking for a Post-Pandemic Comeback

Some Down­town San Fran­cis­co store­fronts are still shut­tered and graf­fi­tied, but some of life are return­ing to the streets as and tourists return to the city’s famous neigh­bor­hoods. But the city’s Down­town is far from back to nor­mal, and big changes will be nec­es­sary to avoid a “gen­er­al eco­nom­ic decline,” accord­ing to a big inter­ac­tive fea­ture pub­lished recent­ly by the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle, writ­ten by Noah Arroyo with sup­ple­ments by Jes­si­ca Chris­t­ian.

“Before the pan­dem­ic, office work was respon­si­ble for a whop­ping 72% of the city’s gross domes­tic prod­uct, accord­ing to the Con­troller’s Office — work that was heav­i­ly con­cen­trat­ed in the Finan­cial Dis­trict, the Street cor­ri­dor, the Embar­cadero and Mis­sion Bay,” writes Arroyo.

Var­i­ous met­rics indi­cate Down­town San Fran­cis­co is far from recov­ered from the effects of work­ing from and social dis­tanc­ing. Office Space vacan­cy is up from 4.8 mil­lion square feet in the first quar­ter of 2019 to 18.7 mil­lion square feet in the first quar­ter of 2022, accord­ing to pre­sent­ed in the arti­cle. That’s the high­est lev­el of office vacan­cies since the Great Reces­sion. Con­ven­tion atten­dees have dropped from 221,500 to 30,300 in the same peri­od, and BART exits are down from 9.8 mil­lion to 2.3 mil­lion. Sales tax rev­enue in 2021 dropped to 33.5 mil­lion, com­pared to 55.6 mil­lion in 2019.

More data is includ­ed in the source arti­cle, with dis­cus­sion of trends focused on the effect for the city’s cof­fers, local busi­ness­es that oper­ate in down­town neigh­bor­hoods, and pub­lic safe­ty. The arti­cle also, how­ev­er, asks “city plan­ners, busi­ness­es and res­i­dents” what they will do in response.

“City offi­cials and lead­ers are work­ing togeth­er, under­stand­ing that unless the city can defy nation­al remote-work trends, its eco­nom­ic core will be for­ev­er altered,” writes Arroyo. So far, the San Fran­cis­co Office of Eco­nom­ic and Work­force Devel­op­ment is work­ing on a strat­e­gy to bring the city’s eco­nom­ic core “back to life,” accord­ing to the arti­cle, but so far, city offi­cials are tak­ing a wait-and-see approach.

“It’s a bit pre­ma­ture for us to share specifics at stage,” said Glo­ria Chan, the office’s direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in an to the Chron­i­cle.

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