Union Square / Yerba Buena: An Action Plan for Downtown’s HEART

June 3, 2024

The twin neighborhoods of Union Square and Yerba Buena, connected by San Francisco’s downtown spine of Market Street and Powell Street station, are where hospitality, entertainment, arts and culture, retail and tourism (HEART) combine to draw visitors and residents alike. It is a unique district with a deep history and tremendous potential.

The Union Square & Yerba Buena area is a destination for almost half of all visitor travel to San Francisco, home to half of the City’s hotel rooms, over 3.5 million square feet of retail space and numerous museums, theaters and performance venues which celebrate the City’s arts and culture. Union Square Park and Yerba Buena Gardens offer iconic public spaces for people to gather and celebrate. The area is well served by transit, home to the Powell Street BART and Muni station, historic Powell/Hyde cable car lines and two new Central Subway stations offering rail connections from Chinatown to Mission Bay and the southeast.

However, the pandemic heightened and accelerated many pre-pandemic trends, including the changing nature of retail and a shift to online shopping. These ongoing changes, combined with hybrid work, suburban competition, and a protracted recovery in tourism, have impacted the number of workers and visitors downtown, leading to storefront vacancies and declining foot traffic. This action plan provides the next steps that will help the Union Square and Yerba Buena areas fulfill their potential and attract San Franciscans and beyond to Downtown’s HEART.

The Vision

The Roadmap To San Francisco’s Future envisions Downtown as “everyone’s neighborhood” - a thriving and economically diverse urban center that is active at all hours, connected by a world-class transportation network and supported by a safe, clean, and welcoming public environment. In Union Square and Yerba Buena, the focus is on adding new experiences, strengthening destination retail, bolstering tourist activity and expanding uses on upper floors to ensure a vibrant, mixed use, residential neighborhood for San Franciscans and visitors alike.


The Action Plan

This Action Plan will be supported by legislation and public funding, including already dedicated funding that is delivering results, new investments in Mayor Breed’s upcoming budget, and the proposed Healthy, Vibrant San Francisco bond on the November ballot.

The Union Square/ Yerba Buena HEART Action Plan a set on a set of near-term initiatives focused on the following:

Bustling public spaces

  • Reimagine Powell Street, including the Powell Cable Car turnaround, to serve as a premier retail and hospitality destination, and pursue public space improvements on Hallidie Plaza and Maiden Lane. 
  • Pursue the establishment of additional entertainment zones to allow restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption during outdoor events and activations at key locations like  Maiden and Yerba Buena Lanes.
  • Make Union Square Park a lively destination at all times with a robust year-round calendar of daily public events and activations for everyone to enjoy. 
  • Continue successful marquee events like Winter Walk, Union Square in Bloom, UNDCSVRD block parties and SF Live concerts.


Active, vibrant storefronts

  • Develop a Vacant to Vibrant program for the unique conditions of Powell Street, matching new businesses with empty storefronts as longer-term pop-ups. 
  • Implement a small business and activation plan that fosters a burgeoning Filipino business district and cultural hub in Yerba Buena by cultivating small businesses, entrepreneurs and community and cultural events. 
  • Launch a coordinated Powell Street Marketing and Leasing Campaign, to generate leasing success for the corridor as a whole.  
  • Provide direct leasing support for small businesses and high touch permit navigation and support for food, beverage, retail,  entertainment and other commercial establishments.  
  • Work directly with building owners and tenants to retain existing retailers & tenants, including working with Macy’s Union Square to ensure a retail presence at this marquee location.


Clean, safe, and easy

  • Launch 24/7 neighborhood-based security presence to ensure a consistent, visible safety presence reinforced by proactive intervention and crisis response support. 
  • Continue the Downtown successful Welcome Ambassadors program to guide tourists with wayfinding, business recommendations, and other services. 
  • Illuminate key pedestrian passages like the Powell/5th Street and Stockton/4th Street corridors to connect visitor destinations and build an enhanced sense of place with overhead lighting. 
  • Transform vacant and inactive storefronts into visually appealing spaces with art and other cultural interventions through programs like Yerba Buena CBD's “Art All Around.”... 
  • Provide reduced-cost parking in the key City parking garages like Union Square, Ellis-O'Farrell and 5th & Mission to attract regional and local visitors to shop, dine, and patronize area theaters, museums and restaurants.

Lively, mixed-use upper floors

  • Build upon recent zoning changes that allow flexibility on upper floors and have made it easier and faster to convert commercial buildings to housing.
  • Work with local and state leaders on legislation to provide financial incentives and permit streamlining for new construction and adaptive reuse projects.