SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Downtown San Francisco is still struggling to recover from the pandemic, according to a new study that examined 62 large cities and placed the city in last place.
The study found downtown San Francisco only has 31 percent of the activity seen before the pandemic in 2019. In comparison, San Jose is seeing 68 percent of its 2019 activity.
One researcher said the city may have to revamp its downtown if it wants to survive. “San Francisco suffers from an economy that isn’t very diverse. It does great when there is a tech boom, but right now it’s really hurting the city’s resilience,” said Karen Chapple, a University of Berkeley and Toronto professor.
Chapple worked on the study with several others at both universities. Researchers used cell phone data to come up with their findings.
“Phone pings that are from people who are at a place for more than five minutes. No traffic, it’s people who are doing something there. We take pre-pandemic pings and compare it to post-pandemic pings,” said Chapple.
When the pandemic first hit, San Francisco was the first city to go into lockdown, and most of the country soon followed. As restrictions eased, a race was on to bounce back.
The study examined 62 downtown areas and found that San Francisco recovered the least out of all of them. This does not come as a surprise to local economists.
“Companies moved away, tourism is down, and people are moving away. These effects have come to a head in the downtown economy,” said Jeff Bellisario, Bay Area Council Economic Institute Executive Director.
They said a part of the problem is all the vacant offices in San Francisco. “They have switched their work address to their home address so that’s what’s affecting San Francisco,” said Chapple.
Researchers believe the best way to revive a downtown is to add more attractions, housing and the way office space is used.
She said the key is getting a different kind of workforce into the offices or changing the way the office space is used. “San Francisco set itself up for this. It zoned out residential and doubled down on commercial offices in the downtown zip code. That’s what it decided this area of the city should be and it was the wrong bet,” said Chapple.
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“A lot of people talk about housing the downtown area. That’s easier said than done,” said Bellisario. “Part of it attracting that office worker back, attracting more companies into downtown SF. Part of it is also just thinking about downtown not just as a Monday through Friday location for workers, but thinking of it as a seven day a week location.”
The Hotel Council of San Francisco also said recent conferences from JP Morgan and Dreamforce have re-sparked tourism and the city’s economy.
According to city data, tourism in the city struggled right up until the end of last year, with hotel occupancy falling below 50 percent. Researchers with the study also examined activity in San Francisco in May and November of last year, but unfortunately little to no progress was made.