(Bloomberg) -- San Francisco Mayor London Breed called on investors to redevelop the city’s struggling downtown core by converting or even demolishing empty buildings to make way for new growth.
“I think we have to start re-imagining what the downtown can be,” Breed said at the Bloomberg Technology Summit in San Francisco on Thursday.
“Let’s look at what’s possible rather than dwelling on the stories of another store closing — there are a lot of people who may not even shop in those places” because of the increase in online shopping.
San Francisco’s troubles are mounting as the tech industry downsizes its operations and retailers flee the city’s downtown area. In a major blow for the city, Westfield announced this month it’s giving up its San Francisco mall, located in the heart of the Union Square district, one of the downtown’s main shopping and tourist areas.
Breed highlighted the potential to convert office towers to housing, tear down buildings for new construction, and to attract startups to plant their roots.
She pointed to the city’s Westfield mall as a structure that could be demolished and the land used as “something completely different” like to build a sports stadium.
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With a budget deficit of $780 million that’s projected to exceed $1 billion by 2026, and a homelessness crisis and high property crime rates, Breed and city leaders are under pressure to find solutions for the once-thriving metropolis.
Breed, a Democrat who has positioned herself as a moderate on quality of life concerns, in her latest budget proposals included business-tax rebates, targeting drug dealers in open-air markets and increasing police staffing.
Airbnb Inc. Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky, speaking during a separate event during the summit, said the technology sector will remain a key driver of growth for the city, including the burgeoning artificial intelligence sector.
“We are really still rooted here,” Chesky said. “I think there is still going to be a huge boom coming to San Francisco.”
However, Republican leaders are using the city’s struggles as campaign fodder. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently filmed an ad from San Francisco’s downtown painting it as “once great city” overrun with drug users and “riff-raff.”
“Miami has issues too,” Breed said on Thursday, in response to the ad.
--With assistance from Karen Breslau.
(Updates with comment from Airbnb’s CEO in 9th paragraph.)
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