During the Bloomberg’s Technology Summit in San Francisco on Thursday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed that the rapidly declining San Francisco Centre mall be completely replaced by something else, going as far as to say that it be torn to male way for a new soccer stadium.
For the last several years, the San Francisco Centre mall has been declining at a fast pace. While the mall received a $1.2 billion appraisal in 2016 while at 100% occupancy, the sharp rise in crime, the COVID-19 pandemic, a dramatic loss in foot traffic, and other factors quickly led to stores fleeing the mall this decade. Last month, Nordstrom, a major anchor, announced that they would be leaving the mall in the next few months, bringing down total capacity to 55%.
With bad news continuing to come in, the mall’s operator, Westfield, said earlier this month they would no longer be making payments on the property, with ownership going to the bank. That sparked one of the malls largest tenants, Cinemark, to announce their abrupt closure last week, bringing tenancy below 50%. Since then, other businesses have signaled that they could be leaving the mall soon too.
San Francisco is facing yet another large low-occupancy building in the city, with many suggestions made in the past few weeks on what to do with the property. Some want the mall to continue, while others have proposed office space, housing, and even making part of it into a giant recreational area. However, when questioned what should be done with the property on Thursday, Mayor Breed didn’t go with the usual office and residential conversion route, and instead proposed tearing down the mall for a stadium or creating a large lab space.
“We can’t completely rely on retail in downtown restricting what happens in downtown anymore,” said Breed. “You can convert certain spaces. A Westfield mall could become, you know, something completely different than what it currently is. It could be a place where — we could even tear down the whole building and build a whole new soccer stadium We can create lab space or look at it as a new company in some other capacity. Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters is built in what once housed a jewelry mart.
“Businesses to reinvest in the city’s community and be even more creative in thinking about ways to use space. Let’s look at what’s possible rather than dwelling on the stories of another store. There are a lot of people who may not even shop in those places. Would I like for everyone to come back to the office five days a week? Of course, I would. But is that going to happen? Probably not. So, let’s make some adjustments to do everything we can to reimagine what parts of San Francisco can be.”
The mall site
Experts told the Globe on Friday that while potentially feasible, a major shake up of the property would have a lot of consequences for the city and wouldn’t guarantee that people would use it.
“Shutting down a mall or converting part of a mall is never easy,” explained shopping mall planner and consultant Lydia Price-Davis to the Globe Friday. “If we’re keeping the building, there have been few success stories of a conversion. Some malls, especially in the South, have been saved by big-box churches moving in in former anchor stores, and the people going there fueling other businesses. But they also don’t use all that space. Remember, department store layouts are really hard to convert to something else, especially with escalators in the middle and odd angles being part of the structure. It’s why it is so hard to get another anchor back, and department stores aren’t exactly expanding right now. Wal-Mart, Menard’s, Dollar General – they can’t just move in there either.”
“On the tear down side, you need to make sure it will be used. Mayor Breed mentioned having a soccer stadium in there. It’s not the worst idea, but you need to have tenants there first. MLS is out of the picture as San Francisco has no team and the nearest in San Jose are playing in a new stadium already. You could try a women’s league team, a minor league, or, most likely, college teams mixed with high school and youth leagues, but that means families needing to travel to the city to play games. Based on the lot size, parking would be a nightmare.”
“Conversion is probably the best option. But even with it, everyone clearly not knowing what to do with such a property is worrying. San Francisco is emptying out right now. They’re getting some tech back with AI seeing a boost, but nothing big enough where these big retail and office spaces will be filled again in the short term. It is very worrying.”
More plans on what to do with the mall are expected to be announced soon.
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