San Francisco Downtown Roadmap One Year Update: Progress in Economic Revitalization

Mayor Breed’s Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future advanced key policies in first year, including filling and repurposing vacant spaces, passing key tax reforms, and making Downtown safe, clean and welcoming for all. Increased focus for next year will be on advancing building conversions, recruiting educational institutions, and advancing arts and culture Downtown.
February 13, 2024

San Francisco, CA – One year ago, Mayor London N. Breed launched the Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future, a strategy to support economic opportunity, vibrancy and resilience and reimagine Downtown in the wake of the aftereffects of the COVID pandemic.  

In the Roadmap’s first year, the City successfully hit targeted milestones to initiate creative ideas and solutions, including changing laws to help fill vacant office and retail spaces, passing policies and tax reforms to attract and diversify new industries into Downtown, and reworking the City’s Planning and Permitting rules to support businesses both large and small. The City also advanced key initiatives to make San Francisco cleaner, safer and more welcoming, and launched activations and initiatives to make Downtown are more dynamic destination at all hours, every day.   

This work is helping to deliver key signs of progress: 

  • On Investment: SF continued to lead the nation in generating venture capital investment, including through Artificial Intelligence, which added 1 million square feet of new office space in 2023. 
  • On Office Attendance: In 2023, SF had the highest year over year increase (23%) of people returning to work in office buildings of any city in a recent study. 
  • On Tourism: Both international and domestic travel to SFO rebounded to nearly pre-pandemic totals, driven in part by the nearly 400,000 conference attendees that came to conferences like APEC and Dreamforce. 
  • On Public Safety: 2023 marked the lowest crime rates the city has seen in a decade, other than 2020 when the city was shutdown. 

While these are important steps, there is more work to be done as Downtown San Francisco is still home to a large volume of unused office and retail space, significant needs remain to bring more activity and people Downtown outside of 9 to 5 hours, and efforts must continue to build on the gains on safety and cleanliness.  

In the year ahead, the City will continue to advance the work of the Mayor Breed’s Roadmap through new initiatives to: 

  • Add new tools to support the conversion of underutilized office buildings and construction of much-needed housing
  • Support arts, culture, and entertainment uses  
  • Launch new outdoor concert series 
  • Create additional rounds of pop-ups and small business programs 
  • Improve our public spaces 
  • Bring educational institutions Downtown 

“The San Francisco we are building is a city of innovation and resilience, of safety and justice, and of opportunity and inclusivity,” said Mayor London Breed. “In the last year we’ve put forward policies and programs that have helped begin our work to revitalize Downtown as we adjust to a new future. San Francisco is an economic leader for our region and a global leader in new technology, and our continued success will lift up not only the Bay Area and our residents, but the entire state.” 

Building on citywide efforts including close collaboration with city, state, and federal public safety agencies, the Mayor’s Office and Office of Economic Workforce and Development (OEWD) have engaged with private sector and community stakeholders over the last year to ramp up focused efforts as part of this work. 

“San Francisco continues to rise to the challenge. The work we put in over the last year demonstrate we are a city that can bring residents, business and industry together to get things done,” said Sarah Dennis Phillips, Executive Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “The future of San Francisco remains bright and promising as we continue to build on this momentum and reimagine a vibrant Downtown that is filled with nightlife, arts, culture, workers, residents, students and visitors.” 

Key Accomplishments in Year One of the Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future 

Reduced barriers for business to open and operate through tax reform, small business support, and streamlining laws: 

  • Paused scheduled tax increases for retail, restaurants, entertainment, hospitality and other businesses. 
  • Created a Downtown office tax credit and initiated business tax reform to encourage in-person work and make our tax base more resilient. 
  • Awarded approximately $20.2 million in funding to small businesses across the City - serving 2,622 small businesses through various grants including rent relief, small business training, flood and fire relief, vandalism relief, SF Shines, DKI training, and other grant programs. 
  • Extended the First-Year Free program that waives City fees for new small businesses. The program has waived more than $2.5 million in fees for over 6,200 businesses so far. 
  • Passed a new outdoor entertainment fee waiver to support arts, culture, and entertainment venues. 
  • Approved small business streamlining legislation that eased over 100 zoning regulations. 

Launched initiatives to diversify and transform empty office space to other uses: 

  • Streamlined the conversion of Downtown office buildings by adopting the Office-to-Housing Adaptive Reuse Program.  
  • Proposed a transfer tax waiver to incentivize conversion projects being considered by voters on the upcoming March ballot.

  • Established more flexible zoning Downtown to foster and attract a wider variety of businesses and activities. 

  • Initiated efforts to bring educational institutions Downtown, including conversations with the University of California and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  

Created opportunities to attract more people downtown, including outside the traditional 9 to 5:  

  • Launched the Vacant to Vibrant program that matches entrepreneurs, artists, and non-profit pop-ups with Downtown properties to activate vacant ground floor spaces for free.  
  • Invested in public spaces such as the Landing at Leidesdorff, Mechanics Monument Plaza, Union Square, Hallidie Plaza, Powell Street, and a new skate park at UN Plaza to create new and inviting experiences Downtown and In Mid-Market.  
  • Invested in new events and activities that enliven Downtown while supporting local vendors and businesses such as Bhangra & Beats and UNDSCVRD Night Markets, Union Square’s Winter Walk, and Let’s Glow SF light art festival that attracted nearly 70,000 people and generated $8 million in economic impact.  

Advanced critical public safety and cleaning initiatives to create a more welcoming Downtown for workers, visitors, and residents: 

  • Budgeted funding for 220 new police officers as part of strategy to get back to full staffing. 
  • Brought the largest number of cadets at the Police Academy since 2018 through targeted recruitment and incentive efforts. 
  • Extended funding for non-police community ambassador programs to provide more support and presence on the streets.  
  • Aggressively took on open-air drug dealing through a coordinated multi-department effort, as well as partnerships with state and federal government. 
  • Secured $17 million in State retail theft grant funds, providing staffing and new equipment.  

Changed the way the city approves and builds housing in order to address homelessness and keep working families in the City through the Mayor’s Housing for All Plan: 

  • Made new housing construction more feasible by reducing inclusionary housing and impact fees.  
  • Created new tool to unlock the housing pipeline by establishing new public financing mechanism for already approved projects.  
  • Sped up new housing approvals and reduced costs by passed laws to streamline city processes and remove unnecessary rules and hearings. 

Strengthened, stabilized and expanded transit connections so people have reliable and variable connections to get Downtown: 

  • Expanded Downtown transit access by bringing back the 1X California Express bus route. 
  • Prevented severe service cuts by securing state funding to bridge the fiscal cliff and keep critical local transportation networks active. 
  • Strengthened cycling connections to Downtown by completing new protected bike lanes on Battery and Sansome.  

Signs of Economic Progress in Key Areas 

The City’s recovery work is yielding successful recovery indicators and impact, including: 

  • San Francisco is the AI Capital of the World

    • Over 20% of all Artificial Intelligence (AI) jobs hiring and eight of the top 20 generative AI firms in the United States are based in San Francisco. 

    • More than 1 million square feet of new office space has been leased to AI companies. 

  • San Francisco leads globally in Venture Capital (VC) 
    • The City is home to the largest VC market in the world with $34.3 billion of investment raised for San Francisco-based companies.  
    • The City of San Francisco received more VC investment than any state in the U.S. (except California).  
  • Public safety efforts are delivering results 
    • Overall crime reached its lowest level in 10 years (except for 2020 during the pandemic shutdown) and continues to trend downward in 2024.
    • San Francisco saw a 35% drop in retail theft in the first six months of 2023, the largest drop in a study of 24 cities nationwide. 
  • New businesses continue to open in San Francisco
    • Nearly 700 new businesses are registering per month on average in San Francisco, as of the last quarter of 2023.
    • More than 200 new business started downtown last year. 
  • Air travel continues to rebound post-pandemic
    • SFO international travel reached 99% 
    • Domestic travel reached 97% 
  • Moscone Center continues to welcome back conventions
    • In 2023, the City successfully hosted 34 conferencesincluding the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and Dreamforce. 
    • Nearly 400,000 conference attendees came to San Francisco, generating $725 million in local economic impact. 
  • Downtown continues to attract major investments 
    • SHVO’s $1 billion renovation of the Transamerica Pyramid 
    • IKEA’s new flagship store, co-working space, and food hall 
    • UC College of the Law San Francisco’s new Academic Village, which will bring 650 units of student housing and 50,000 square feet of state-of-the art academic space to the Civic Center area.  

“The roadmap for San Francisco's future has set us on the path to successfully creating a more vibrant, resilient, and diverse city,” said Rodney Fong, President and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “Thank you, Mayor Breed, for your determination to continue pushing thoughtful and pragmatic proposals forward to positively shape San Francisco.” 

"Mayor Breed and OEWD have been critical partners as we work together toward a full recovery in the Union Square District," said Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance. "Over the past year, with the City’s support Union Square played host to several seasonal initiatives such as Winter Walk and Union Square in Bloom. We've celebrated the opening of two new cafés in the park, and engaged world-class design teams, Field Operations and Sitelab Urban Studio, to refresh and revitalize the Powell Street corridor. Furthermore, we've witnessed a concerted investment in policing throughout our district. All these investments stand as clear evidence of the City’s desire to position the downtown for a strong and healthy future. We are profoundly grateful and eagerly anticipate a promising future ahead as we continue to work together." 

“I’m so proud of the work the City has done to really listen to small businesses, hear what challenges we’re facing, and tackle those issues head on,” said Cynthia Huie, Entrepreneur and President of the Small Business Commission. “As someone who just recently opened a new business, I can attest to how helpful the recent progress is. Change takes time, and when I look at the progress we’ve made just over the past year to better support small businesses, I’m confident in our future.”   

"Vacant to Vibrant is the spark that has ignited a remarkable transformation in Downtown San Francisco. There is a new energy that has been brought to these underutilized spaces. The program is more than just a facelift; it's a catalyst for shared prosperity,” said Matthew Kosoy of Rosalind Bakery.  

“The City’s efforts have been tremendous in allowing us to turn the offices at 988 Market into housing. Because of this work, our project was able to secure entitlement and the site permit issuance within one month of submission to DBI,” said Mark Shkolnikov with Group i. “The reduction in the inclusionary housing and impact fees, along with the planning code waivers associated with adaptive re-use projects, were an essential step in moving our project forward.”  

To learn more about the Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future, go to View a one-year snapshot of the Roadmap’s achievements here