What Will Bring People Back to Downtown S.F.? This Developer Is Betting on Redwood Trees

Oct 13, 2022

Source: sfchronicle.com

An audacious bet on post-pandemic downtown San Francisco could be coming as a proposed, full-block development at Main and Market streets that will include a nearly 1,000-foot tower with 808 apartments and 1.5 million square feet of office space with sliding glass windows that create “air porches.”

But while such an ambitious scheme may be a balm to city planners weary of hearing about the Financial District’s vacant buildings and shuttered storefronts, the proposed project at the old PG&E headquarters at 50 Main St. will offer something that could even attract city residents who don’t care about state-of-the-art office space or high-rise living: a mini Muir Woods smack in the middle of a concrete jungle.

The developer Hines is proposing to create a mid-block oasis with 75 redwood trees, which will tower over publicly accessible, well-lit gardens with places to sit and eat and hang out. The development will be called the City Grove.

Designed by PWP Landscape Architecture — the same landscape architect that designed Salesforce Park — the forest would be accessible from three sides of the property and would take up 70% of the block. Adam Greenspan, a partner with PWP, said the space beneath the redwoods would feature “ferns and flowering material” and would “feel comfortable and cozy at all times of the year and all times of the day.”

“A great redwood forest has a power to it that can stand up to buildings on either side,” Greenspan said. “But closer in, these redwoods create and make an outdoor room where the trunks are like columns and their canopy is like the ceiling.”

On Thursday, Hines Senior Managing Director Paul Paradis and the project design team gave members of the San Francisco Planning Commission a 15-minute informational overview of the latest design. In addition to the park, the development will include four elements. An 808-unit tower, designed by Foster & Partners, will replace 50 Main St. The current office building at 77 Beale St. will get a new core and skin while retaining its steel moment frame structural system. Two historic buildings, 215 Market St. and 245 Market St., will be renovated.

“The City Grove demonstrates tremendous confidence in and commitment to the future vitality of our great city,” said Paradis. “All of this will accelerate downtown San Francisco’s evolution into a 24/7 city.”

Jon Pickard of Pickard Chilton Architects, which is designing the office buildings, said the adaptable curtain wall system would allow tenants to build out their spaces to include “air porches” that would allow workers to breathe in the smell of the redwood trees outside.

“The pandemic brought new focus on the desire for access to fresh air and natural light and nature,” he said. “To bring our tenants back to downtown San Francisco we need to provide a place they can recruit, retain and engage the talent.”

In a year when almost no significant new developments have been proposed — and downtown’s 25% office vacancy has surpassed the depth of the dot-com crash two decades ago — commissioners gushed over the plan’s details.

Commissioner Joel Koppel said that the proposal was welcome, coming a day after a somewhat grim breakfast forum about the future of downtown:

“I don’t think a better project could have come in front of us today after yesterday’s breakfast.”

Commissioner Theresa Imperial said that if the redwood grove works out “it will be a great treasure for the city.”

While she said she supported the project, Commissioner Sue Diamond questioned whether the tower would cast shadows over any existing open spaces — something that an attorney for the developer said is still being studied as part of the environmental review. She also asked why Hines decided to completely overhaul the 1.5 million square feet of office space at a time when the market is so uncertain.

Paradis said his company is trying to position the City Grove to capture the best tenants when completed “four to five years” from now.

“The companies making commitment to office space are making it to the very best buildings,” he said. “They are demanding new systems, great buildings. They are trying to keep their employees safe and attract their employees back to work. So you have to have a great building for it to lease.”

*Photo © Steelblue


Source: sfchronicle.com