This week, San Francisco announced a new initiative to encourage and support the conversion of underutilized office buildings for other uses as part of the City’s vision for the future of Downtown. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Planning Department have partnered together to announce a Request For Interest (RFI) from City stakeholders to provide information on existing and future downtown development projects as a critical component of the City’s economic recovery efforts.
Conversions of underutilized spaces to new uses, often called “adaptive reuse” projects, are a key element of the Mayor’s Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco’s Future. This new initiative, along with the legislation recently approved, will enable the City to understand the needs of property owners, architects, and developers, to assist adaptive reuse projects.
Responses to the RFI can be projects that include conversion of nonresidential space to new uses, including proposals that
- Convert office space to housing,
- Reactivate vacant ground floor spaces with neighborhood-serving retail, entertainment, and cultural uses,
- Enhance the public realm,
- Activate underutilized upper floors,
- Support education, art, research, and manufacturing.
“We are implementing strategic policies to strengthen San Francisco’s economic vibrancy and support our downtown, which is more important now than ever before,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “By providing creative ideas and important insights on how we can work together to bring these policies to life in real projects, City stakeholders can make a real difference for economic recovery, and our City for everyone. We have an extraordinary opportunity right now to think big, think creatively, and decide what we want the future of downtown to be.”
This effort builds on key legislation authored by Mayor London N. Breed and President of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin that was passed last week. That legislation simplified the approval process and requirements for converting existing commercial buildings into housing and streamlined the process for filling vacant space. With this legislation now approved, the City is focused on working with community members and experts in the building and development field to help realize these new downtown projects and what the future of San Francisco might look like.
“I am optimistic about the opportunities for downtown’s ability to adapt to our challenges,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. “Our historic downtown buildings, in particular, provide a unique opportunity for adaptive reuse, especially when coupled with the advantages of tax benefits provided by the Mills Act and Federal Historic Tax Credits.”
About the Request for Interest (RFI)
The intent of this RFI is to identify projects where the City could help accelerate or enhance building conversions through regulatory modifications, financial incentives, or other means. Through this RFI, San Francisco also seeks to provide a venue for project sponsors to share information about the specific financial constraints, regulatory impediments, and other feasibility issues that may be facing individual adaptive reuse projects at an early stage.
Projects may be at any stage of planning or design. The City’s assistance could take a variety of forms, depending on the specific needs of each project. Responses to this RFI should describe the project concept and demonstrate how the City’s assistance would either make the project feasible or enhance its public benefits. Respondents may propose forms of City assistance that could include:
- Increases to allowable building volume or other zoning modifications,
- Project-specific fee modifications or adjustments to timing of fee payments,
- Mills Act contracts,
- Local tax reductions or other types of local tax consideration,
- Tax increment financing to support public infrastructure improvements, preservation of historic structures, or affordable housing,
- Modifications to inclusionary housing requirements,
- City support on state or federal funding applications,
- Assistance with ground floor activation or potential tenant identification, or
- Other forms of City support
“We’ve done significant analysis on office to residential conversions and we’ve heard from local and national experts. Now is the time to make office conversion projects real,” said Rich Hillis, Planning Director at the San Francisco Planning Department. “This RFI will identify specific projects and give us the policy roadmap to make them happen.”
Taking Recommendations While Building Critical Pieces of Conversion Infrastructure
Last week, experts in urban planning and economic recovery from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) announced their findings and recommendations on how San Francisco can continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for a more diverse mix of uses downtown, including the need for office to housing conversions. In their recommendations, informed by results in New York and other cities, they noted that large numbers of office to housing conversions will likely not occur initially without incentives. This RFI seeks to identify the need for incentives, or other forms of assistance that could enable conversions to become a reality and support Downtown San Francisco’s economic recovery.
Goals of this Request for Interest (RFI)
Through this RFI, OEWD and the Planning Department seek to identify downtown adaptive reuse projects that could be accelerated or enhanced through regulatory modifications, financial incentives, or other types of assistance permitted under existing or future laws. This could take the form of Development Agreements or other mechanisms.
In addition to generating much-needed new housing units, adaptive reuse projects provide the opportunity to reactivate vacant ground floor spaces with neighborhood-serving retail, entertainment, or cultural uses; enhance the public realm; activate underutilized upper floors with new sectors that diversify the downtown economy such as education, art, research, and manufacturing; preserve historic building facades and unique interior spaces; improve the environmental performance of existing buildings; and seismically strengthen aging buildings for future decades of continued use. Adaptive reuse projects also have the potential to catalyze additional investment in nearby locations.
“San Francisco’s downtown commercial buildings vary widely by age, size, and configuration. The Financial District north and south of Market Street includes two-thirds of San Francisco’s overall office space, with much of it clustered in larger, taller towers built since the 1960s, said Anne Taupier, Director of Joint Development at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “However, these downtown neighborhoods also include several designated historic districts and hundreds of smaller Class B and Class C office buildings built before World War II. The City seeks responses through this RFI that address the unique challenges to adapting each of these different building types, and different approaches that may make the reuse of these buildings more practical and financially feasible.”
Eligibility to Participate
Expressions of interest are welcomed from building owners or other project sponsors who are exploring specific projects within downtown San Francisco that would convert underutilized commercial space into housing and other new uses. Projects may be at any stage of planning or design, and may or may not include architectural plans or other visualizations, however the description of the project should be detailed enough to understand how a specific building program would fit and perform on a specific site.
Although “office-to-housing” projects are of particular interest, responses may be for conversion of any non-residential floor area to new uses (other than office), providing an opportunity for creative ideas of all kind to be shared.
Resources for Participants
Please submit responses to the Request for Interest (RFI) by Friday, August 4, 2023 via email to AdaptiveReuseRFI@sfgov.org. The City will hold an online information session regarding this RFI on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. More information can be found online at https://sf.gov/resource/2023/request-interest-rfi-adaptive-reuse-downtown-commercial-buildings
Throughout the year, OEWD solicits request for proposals and requests for information for a range of programs and projects. To learn more about opportunities with OEWD and with the City of San Francisco, please visit https://sf.gov/information/bid-opportunities