n aerial birds eye view of San Francisco looking straight down at the skyscrapers and streets in the financial district.
Photo: iStock / Diane Bentley Raymond

The Future of Downtown

The Covid pandemic has created the largest disruption to the life and economy of downtown San Francisco since the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes.

The most significant impact on downtown (and other major cities across the country) involves the long-term question of whether workers will return to physical offices – with ripple effects on other sectors such as retail, activation of public space, and transportation patterns. The Planning Department will engage in a coordinated effort across city departments to assess and address these dynamics.

The City has received additional interest in this RFI and is extending the deadline to submit a response to Friday, September 22, 2023.
Watch the recording from our virtual info session on the City's Request for Interest on the Adaptive Reuse of Downtown Commercial Buildings.

On February 2023, Mayor Breed released the Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco’s Future. The Roadmap outlines nine strategies for Downtown:

  1. Ensure Downtown is clean, safe, and inviting
  2. Attract and retain a diverse range of industries and employers
  3. Facilitate new uses and flexibility in buildings
  4. Make it easier to start and grow a business
  5. Grow and prepare our workforce
  6. Transform Downtown into a leading arts, culture, and nightlife destination 
  7. Enhance public spaces to showcase Downtown
  8. Invest in transportation connections
  9. Tell our story

Building on the Mayor’s Roadmap, the Planning Department and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) are working together, along with external organizations, to address downtown recovery in both the near- and long-term.

This effort will focus on four themes related to downtown San Francisco:

Economic Diversification and The Future of Office

Based on the insights and information from the Covid Economic Impact Analysis Study, led by OEWD with the assistance of consultants, this effort will advance thinking and put forward recommendations regarding the opportunities and challenges in rethinking the economic mix of businesses, industries and organizations physically located in downtown.

Expanding Downtown Housing

With current high commercial vacancy and the likelihood of long-term work from home trends, many are pointing to the opportunity and need to increase the downtown residential population to create a more 24/7 environment and utilize vacant space, both through new construction and conversions of existing buildings. The Planning Department will examine the challenges and opportunities in converting non-residential buildings to housing as well as an assessment of capacity for new housing construction and how well the facilities and amenities downtown support a robust residential population.

  • SPUR and Gensler released a summary of findings which includes an analysis of the physical characteristics of buildings that would make them candidates for adaptive reuse projects, as well as some of the feasibility barriers.
  • Request for Interest (RFI) - Adaptive Reuse of Downtown Commercial Buildings was issued on June 22, 2023. 
  • The City approved legislation on July 5, 2023 (Ordinance No. 122-23) which among other things establishes a new Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse Program (Planning Code Section 210.5). Projects which meet certain criteria are eligible to receive of waivers of Planning Code requirements.  

Public Life and Retail

What can we do in the near and long term to fill vacant spaces? What ground floor uses are desirable? How much space is there relative to demand now and in the future? How can we expand the offerings of the street life downtown to include more arts, culture, small business, and services attractive and useful for a broad range of the population, including downtown workers? Building off the recently published Downtown Public Realm Action Strategy commissioned by the Downtown SF Partnership and the Planning Department will identify near-term and long-term strategies to activate the ground floor and public realm.

  • Vacant to Vibrant is a program helping small businesses collaborate with local property owners to create engaging pop-up experiences and community spaces in downtown San Francisco.

Union Square

A unique place that has been a citywide/regional/national center for shopping, services, and entertainment. Will it continue to be different than the rest of downtown? The Planning Department and OEWD will build upon the analysis and the strategic planning effort currently being led by the Union Square Alliance.

  • The City approved legislation (Ordinance No. 122-23) on July 5th which among other things will allow office and housing above the 1st floor in the Union Square area (C-3-R zoning district).

Hearing Documents

Planning Commission Hearing, February 23, 2023
Supporting Document (2022-010182CWP)

Planning Commission Hearing on Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse and Downtown Economic Revitalization (BF 23-0371), May 4, 2023
Supporting Document (2023-003165PCA)

Planning Commission Hearing on Commercial to Residential Adaptive Reuse and Downtown Economic Revitalization (BF 23-0732), July 13, 2023
Supporting Document (2023-003165PCA)