San Francisco mayor proposes tearing down Westfield Mall and other shuttered downtown retailers

SF mayor proposes demolishing struggling downtown retail, including Westfield mall, to revitalize area amid declining real estate market and remote work impact.
SF mayor proposes demolishing struggling downtown retail, including Westfield mall, to revitalize area amid declining real estate market and remote work impact.

The mayor of San Francisco on Thursday suggested reshaping the city’s struggling downtown by demolishing vacant retail property, including the Westfield mall, and erecting new buildings.

Mayor London Breed said on Thursday at the Bloomberg Technology Summit in San Francisco, “We can’t completely rely on retail in downtown restricting what happens in downtown anymore.”

Breed’s remarks come at a time when San Francisco is dealing with vacant offices, a collapsing commercial real estate market, and the departure of merchants from its once-bustling downtown district, particularly in light of the widespread adoption of work-from-home laws that caused many residents to relocate to less costly regions of the country.

Politicians, businessmen, and locals have all recently criticized San Francisco for what they perceive to be an increase in retail thefts, even though, according to observers of the industry, it’s not evident that crime has become noticeably more serious.

Breed claimed that a general move to internet purchasing following the pandemic was a factor in the area’s dwindling foot traffic.

You can change some spaces. A Westfield Mall might evolve into something very different from what it is today, she said.

“We could even demolish the entire structure and construct a brand-new soccer stadium. We can build a lab or see it as a different firm in some other capacity,” she continued.

Westfield announced earlier this month that it intended to return its shopping center, the San Francisco Centre, to its lender. “Difficult operating conditions in downtown San Francisco, which have resulted in declines in sales, occupancy, and foot traffic,” the mall operator said.

Following another significant corporation’s withdrawal from the city, Westfield left the area. In June, Park Hotels and Resorts, the investment group that owns the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Parc 55 hotels, stopped making payments to its lender.

A count by the San Francisco Standard shows that 20 stores close to the city’s Union Square have closed since 2020.

Breed urged companies to “be even more creative” when considering how to use space and to reinvest in the city’s community.

“Instead of focusing on the negative news about another store, let’s consider what is potential… Many people might not even shop in those locations, she noted.

San Francisco, whose economy has been severely impacted by the pandemic, has suffered as a result of the shops’ departures. Over the past few years, many tech companies in the area were fast to adopt flexible hybrid or remote work arrangements, which caused a large exodus of personnel. San Francisco’s office vacancy rate has risen to a 30-year high, which has had a detrimental effect on the city’s commercial real estate sector as well as on neighborhood shops and eateries, which have seen a decline in foot traffic and sales.

Would it be possible for everyone to return to work five days a week? I would, of course. But will that actually occur? Most likely not. In order to reinvent what some areas of San Francisco can be, let’s make some tweaks, Breed added.

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