Revitalizing Downtown San Francisco

Revitalizing Downtown San Francisco March 17, 2023

What makes the best city in the world? According to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, it’s that opportunities are everywhere, for everyone. At a recent event hosted by Avison Young and Gensler, Mayor Breed shared her vision for transforming downtown San Francisco. Despite unprecedented office vacancies — rounding out the year at a 23.7% vacancy rate according to Avison Young’s AVANT data — the effort to be a more vibrant destination can be seen through various safety, transit, and other initiatives. After hearing from Mayor Breed, Avison Young’s Mark Anderson led a lively discussion with a distinguished panel of leaders who are currently making an impact on San Francisco’s downtown revitalization.

Commercial real estate panel discussion on revitalizing the city of San Francisco with Guest Speaker Mayor London Breed
Mayor London Breed (right) addresses the room

Noting the influence that tech employers have had in San Francisco, Gensler’s Scott Dunlap, Regional Managing Principal, asked Mayor Breed about the city’s efforts to bring other industries, like life sciences, to downtown. In addition to expanded safety programs, Mayor Breed has committed to expediting the housing development process, incentivizing businesses through tax delays, and updating various zoning changes that will support development in the downtown area.

San Francisco Commercial Real Estate Specialists at Panel Discussion
Left to right: Moderator Mark Anderson and panelists Carl Shannon, Gina Fromer, Rhiannon Bailard, Mike Huaco, and Giselle Bonilla.

A vibrant city depends on its development community, and according to Carl Shannon, Senior Managing Director at Tishman Speyer, a focus on experience is one important element of transformation. In terms of employees returning to offices, Shannon explains that “it’s about providing services, hospitality, amenities, activation… you have to create a really cool, fun environment that people want to come to.”

Another important element of the return to office conversation is the record number of parents, especially women, who are leaving the workforce altogether. Gina Fromer, CEO of Children’s Council San Francisco, explained how childcare is an increasingly important amenity to provide workers and create an affordable, family-friendly city.

Rhiannon Bailard, Chief Operating Officer at UC Law, explained that the university is inviting other institutions to make use of available classroom space, to teach specific graduate courses on campus. UC Law is developing new residential units and connected amenities for its own students as well as students attending other universities, creating synergy with the community to ultimately build consistent, positive activation in the area.

Giselle Bonilla, Director of Global Real Estate and Capital Projects at Zendesk shared how companies with global real estate strategies, like Zendesk, are playing a revitalization role. Major employers choose San Francisco for their headquarters because it’s a great place for innovation — and according to Mike Huaco, SVP of Global Workplace Resources at Synopsys Inc., the city can keep those companies in place by accelerating the focus on innovation.

One thing couldn’t be more apparent: as downtowns around the world reinvent and rethink civic strategies, partnerships and community will remain at the heart of successful revitalization plans. The best real estate strategies will be human-centric, underlined by discussions like this one, propelling engineered experiences to serve the end user.