- San Francisco has proposed a plan to redevelop the Moscone Convention Center's 732-space garage into a multiuse complex with at least 100 affordable housing units and at least 650 hotel rooms, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
- The garage, which is owned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, reportedly is 53% occupied during peak hours and generates $2.3 million each year for the city.
- Leaders with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are scheduled to vote today on whether to move forward with the plan and issue a request for proposals for developers to build the multiuse facility.
Building and operating a parking garage is no cheap endeavor. Although they can be revenue generators, that only happens if they consistently reach target fill rates to balance out operating costs like power, maintenance and security. An enticing option for underused parking garages is to redevelop them into something that could be more profitable for the owner or useful for the community. Because the garage in San Francisco is reportedly only at 53% capacity during peak hours, selling the structure might indeed prove more attractive for the city than continuing to operate as is.
Despite near-constant speculation, the true future of autonomous vehicles (AV) and the impact they will have have on U.S. cities is unclear. One oft-muttered theory is that AVs will cause personal car ownership to plummet, especially in dense urban areas, as people instead opt to be driven around by on-demand AVs. If that turns out to be the case, the need for large parking garages also would drop.
Although that's a lot of "ifs," very real potential exists for parking garages to become underused, archaic structures in the coming decades, which likely would lead to more property owners and operators looking to dump their garages and agree to redevelopment projects like the proposal in San Francisco. Other structures that cities are beginning to look at differently due to changing societal needs and underutilization are large, traditional brick-and-mortar retail spaces, such as malls.
San Francisco's proposal is an innovative way to increase housing capacity during a time when the state and many of its municipalities are in a housing crisis, thanks to the one-two punch of low supply and high costs. For cities that are hindered by a lack of land on which to build new homes, transforming lesser used properties with a sizable footprint is a solid idea. This is the San Francisco's latest project to transform underutilized public land into affordable housing. The city has undertaken a number of other projects like this through its Public Land for Housing initiative.
The trick is to make sure the housing is built where it is needed and wanted. Adding housing right next to a city's convention center and a tourist-heavy area isn't exactly an obvious choice, however the need is great for more housing throughout the city. Putting below market rate housing in this area could also drive a trend for developing more units in creative ways in the heart of the city.
As a recent study noted, downtowns provide many economic and social benefits for residents, but rising costs can drive out long-time residents and diverse populations. Projects that provide more affordable housing downtown can preserve diversity and create a greater return on investment than if units were added in other parts of a city. Adding housing in a city center allows residents greater access to amenities such as transit, entertainment and jobs.
San Francisco's plan also includes adding a sizable hotel tower, which is greatly needed, especially in that particular area. The hotels adjacent to the convention center are regularly at or near capacity and often have high prices, which can deter tourists and businesspeople from staying there. The hotels also tend to be smaller — less than 200 rooms — and a number of them occupy historic buildings that makes it difficult or impossible to expand. Adding a large, 600-unit hotel will add significant capacity and make it easier for groups considering the convention center to book enough hotel rooms. That, in turn, could result in more convention center bookings and give the area an economic boost.