Business groups urge’activating the streets’ to lure people back to downtown areas

Business groups in San Francisco are hoping to partner with City Hall to produce ongoing events to entice people back to the city’s economic core, where restaurants and retail shops have suffered from a loss of tourists and office workers who now toil largely from home. And new proposed spending from Mayor London Breed could help.

“The idea is that we activate the streets; we show people that downtown is a fantastic place to go, it’s an easy place to get to,” said Andrew Chun, owner of the historic Schroeder’s restaurant and multiple other businesses in the downtown area, “Hopefully we can bridge that transition for the next couple of years, as more and more companies adopt the hybrid lifestyle.” And a board member of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which advocates for restaurants’ interests.

The plan was a major topic at a Tuesday event hosted by urban think tank SPUR and moderated by Wade Rose, president of Advance SF, a group that represents and advocates on behalf of major employers in San Francisco.

At the online event, called “Renewing San Francisco’s Economic Core,” Chun pitched an idea: One Friday each month, local businesses in the downtown area would simultaneously host events that start when the workday closes.

“Every bar you walk into will be hosting live music or an art display,” Chun said, and then nodded to co-panelist Ramona Prieto, head of public policy and communications for the western US at Uber. to do is get a commitment from Ramona, and the Ubers of the world, and Salesforce, to help sponsor this not only with financial dollars but also a commitment to ask their workers to come in those days, and hopefully we get some momentum. Maybe we can set up a night market around there. ”

Kate Sofis, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, was on board with the general approach. “When we want to have people coming into our city core, how do we market to them and how do we create experiences — just like we think about, how do I entice a family from Paris to decide they’re going to use their vacation this summer to come to San Francisco, and not New York or London or some other major city? ”Sofis asked.

Depending on the outcome of upcoming budget negotiations, the groups could soon receive new city funding to host events and otherwise make the economic core more inviting. Breed announced Tuesday that she wants to spend $ 47.9 million on revitalizing the area as part of her proposed budgets for that would include: the next two fiscal years.

•• $ 25.4 million over the next two years for the city’s Community-Based Safety Program, which funds “safety ambassadors” to maintain cleanliness and make people feel more secure in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas.

• $ 10.5 million over the next two years for public events.

• $ 10 million to help small businesses recover and launch.

• $ 2 million to staff key locations for tourism and mass transit, to make visitors feel safe. Key sites include downtown BART stations, Union Square, Moscone Convention Center and the waterfront.

COVID-19 dealt a blow to San Francisco, kneecapping tourism and causing office occupancy to drop as professionals worked from home to slow the spread of the virus.

Workers have been gradually returning to the San Francisco metro area, which includes Oakland and Hayward, since early 2021, according to data from Kastle Systems, which tracks access-card swipes at companies in major urban areas. In Kastle’s weekly “Back to Work Barometer” Office occupancy in San Francisco was near 100% before the pandemic, and was 33.4% as of May 23 — a 1.2% decline since the previous week. ..

Recovery in the city’s tourism industry has also been slow, but more volatile, with massive dips in hotel occupancy in this year’s first quarter due to the omicron variant.

While businesses have been hurt across the city, the loss of foot traffic has especially wounded the downtown area, according to figures that Sofis presented at Tuesday’s event. Sales tax revenue declined in those ZIP codes — 94102, 94104 and 94111 — more than 30% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2021.

“I’ve been visiting businesses large and small,” Breed said in a press release, “and while it’s clear we are all committed to adapting and thriving as part of our long-term recovery, our small businesses in these downtown areas cannot wait they need all of us dedicating our energy and resources to help them in the short-term, as we continue to do the work to get our city back on track. ”

Noah Arroyo (he / him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: noah.arroyo@sfchronicle.com