Downtown San Francisco Still Looking for a Post-Pandemic Comeback

“Downtown on the Brink” reads the headline of a recent San Francisco Chronicle feature.

June 15, 2022, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

California Shelter-in-Place

The empty streets of Downtown San Francisco in March 2020 were one of the earliest indicators of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. | Bjorn Bakstad / Shutterstock

Some Downtown San Francisco storefronts are still shuttered and graffitied, but some signs of life are returning to the streets as professionals and tourists return to the city’s famous urban 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 visual 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 Market 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 home 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 data 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 these 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 business 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 this stage,” said Gloria Chan, the office’s director of communications, in an email to the Chronicle.

Friday, June 10, 2022 in San Francisco Chronicle

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