Mayor Breed and President Peskin Announce Investment to Support Powell Street Corridor

$6 million in streetscape improvements and grants to help revitalized and fill vacancies on stretch from Cable Car Turnaround to Union Square
May 16, 2023

San Francisco, CA – Today Mayor London N. Breed and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin announced a new proposal to refresh and reinvigorate Powell Street between the Cable Car turnaround and Union Square. The $6 million plan will reinvigorate this important corridor with capital investments in the promenade and funding to help fill vacant storefront as part of the broader plan to support Union Square and Downtown recovery.   

Powell Street between Market and Geary is a critical entry corridor into Union Square. Every day, thousands of employees and visitors exit BART and Muni at Powell Street Station, come up through Hallidie Plaza and head north, alongside San Francisco's iconic cable cars, into the heart of the Union Square District.     

“We need to change how we do things in this City to support our Downtown and Union Square,” said Mayor Breed. “This stretch of Powell Street should be a destination filled with activity, shopping, and dining. This proposal is about not only improving this area, but also continuing to send a message that we are going to do everything we can to make our Downtown a successful and thriving place for decades to come. I want to thank President Peskin for partnering on this and other legislative efforts supporting Union Square, as well as our City Departments doing the work to lift up our Downtown.”  

“Beautifying and improving the Powell Street Promenade, and making this gateway to Union Square accessible and useable for more visitors, continues to be an important priority,” said Board President Aaron Peskin.  

Powell Street Proposal Details  

$4 Million: Powell Street Promenade Improvements   

This project would replace the existing metallic sidewalk extensions, which are now past their useful lifespan, with a simple, clean and elegant new sidewalk treatment, creating a unified widened sidewalk from Market Street to Geary. The design approach would aim to call attention to and celebrate the cable cars and Powell's beautiful buildings. SFMTA has identified $2 million toward this project and $2 million will come from the Mayor’s proposed upcoming budget to support this project.    

$2 million: Public-Private Approach to Filling Vacant Storefronts on Powell Street  

These funds will be used to incentivize and jumpstart up to 10 new tenancies in storefronts along Powell Street.  They could be used to help subsidize costly tenant improvements or provide direct subsidy to other aspects of a new business' start-up costs. The funds would only be made available once a landlord and tenant had reached tentative agreement on lease terms. $2 million will come from the Mayor’s proposed upcoming budget to support this proposal.    

“As San Francisco reopens to visitors, it's essential that our retail and hospitality sector is welcoming, vibrant and thriving. Union Square, and specifically Powell Street, serve as the gateway to our city, and it's vital that we create a positive first impression for those arriving. Improving the streetscape and attracting essential retail in this area is crucial not only for the economic recovery of our City, but also to enhance the overall experience for those who come and enjoy the beauty and excitement of Union Square,” said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance. “With the support of Mayor Breed and Board President Peskin, we can ensure that Union Square remains a vibrant and enticing destination for visitors and locals, for years to come!”   

“A thriving Powell Street is crucial to downtown San Francisco’s economic recovery, so it’s a priority for us to support this project. It’s going to make Powell Street more inviting for tourists and residents alike,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation, Jeffrey Tumlin. “This year is the 150th anniversary of the cable car’s invention in San Francisco, and we’re hoping more people than ever will hop on the cable car at the Powell Street cable car turnaround to visit the many great destinations along Powell Street.”   

In total, $4 million of this proposal will be part of the Mayor’s proposed budget, which will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for review by June 1st. The $2 million SFMTA portion of the funds have already been identified in its existing budget.   

Efforts to Support Union Square and Downtown   

This initiative is part of a broader plan to reinvigorate and support Union Square and Downtown, which includes legislation spearheaded by Mayor Breed and President Peskin. That legislation incudes targeted zoning changes to allow additional flexibility for new and diversified uses and activities in Union Square. Responding to both the pre-pandemic impacts of online shopping and to post-pandemic shifts in the retail industry, the legislation allows a wider range of uses to better activate streets and buildings.    

On upper floors, that includes allowing for additional office, service, design and retail uses; and on ground floors allowing for indoor and outdoor entertainment, flexible retail workspaces, and larger retailers that will make the area more attractive for businesses, employees, and visitors alike.    

This legislation was recently approved by the Planning Commission and will be heard at the Building Inspection Commission on Wednesday, May 17 before heading to the Board of Supervisors for final consideration.