By Thomas K. Pendergast
Trading in automobile parking lots for green space and pedestrian pathways is the core idea driving the renovation of the Stonestown Galleria because the traditional model for the shopping mall will either evolve or die.
Sitting on 40 acres of prime real estate next to 19th Avenue, the 900,000-square-foot mall has lost anchor department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom in favor of Target, Trader Joe’s, and a modern 11-screen Regal cinema. But that’s just the start of coming attractions.
Whole Foods and Sports Basement are both coming in, and other retail spaces are expected to open at the former Macy’s space. On the other end of the mall, Target is expanding into the main floor of the former Nordstrom space.
“The transition to the Whole Foods and the Sports Basement and the Regal cinemas is obviously an evolution that is good for the mall,” said Jack Sylvan, the senior vice president of development for Brookfield Properties. “Everybody has seen how much COVID has impacted peoples’ shopping habits and retail is changing, and one of the things we heard loud and clear from the community is how important Stonestown is for people as an amenity, as a place for their kids who are in high school, or seniors to visit, to access their retail needs but also as a gathering place.”
Included in the plan are: 2,900 new residential units around the mall, in buildings ranging from three to 18 stories; 200,000 square feet of a new street-facing merchant corridor along 20th Avenue; six acres of tree-lined, landscaped parks, plazas and open space on the east and west sides, with areas for outdoor dining and a farmer’s market.
Portions of the existing mall will be modernized to create pathway connections through and around the mall to adjacent neighborhoods, with pedestrian and bicycle paths. Car parking will be reconfigured.
Sylvan describes the mall today as “a donut of parking with a box in the middle of it.”
“We’re not saying that people can’t still come by car. There’s going to be the parking that people need, but it will be more integrated for other ways to get there, like the bike or walking,” he said. “If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last year, it’s how nice it is to be able to be outside, gathering with people sitting down at a restaurant or a café.”
Sylvan said that Stonestown was based on the model of a mall built from the 1950s through the 1980s, which often used department stores as anchor businesses.
“Many of them are really suffering, mostly because of the department store model. The shopping habits have changed. Not everywhere, but in a lot of locations they’re just not viable,” he explained. So, Stonestown’s upgrade will likely be the evolution or the next version of the shopping mall.
The challenge from online or Internet sales was already affecting retailers before the pandemic. However, the past year has increased the pressure tremendously.
“To get people to go to a store rather than clicking a button at home to purchase something requires more and more making that experience something that they want to travel for,” Sylvan said. “The vision that we’re proposing is making it more of an integrated town center with a neighborhood retail street and the mix of gathering spaces that can accommodate events and the farmer’s market.”
Although Sunset District resident Mike Tsoi is dependent on driving and parking, he also likes the new model idea.
“I appreciate the parking because I have a big family,” Tsoi said. “We have three generations in the household. I’ve got three kids and my parents live with us. The reason we go to Stonestown a lot is because my parents go to the gym there, pre-pandemic…. And it was a good place to go feed this big family that we have here, so I think it’s a great idea to use the parking space more, even though we appreciate having parking.
“And I appreciate that they’re having more smaller shops and restaurants in there. So, I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Tsoi has a 7-year-old boy, a 4-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old daughter.
“My understanding is that they’re going to have more parking underground in the garage,” he said. “So, if they really do that, I’m all for less surface-level parking.”
He said they rarely shopped at the old department stores like Nordstrom or Macy’s, but they do shop a lot at Target because they can get a mix of things that they cannot get at a department store.
“We can buy food at Target. We can’t buy that food at Nordstrom,” Tsoi said. “We can buy more affordable clothing and products, frankly, than at a department store, and electronics. So, I think that the mix of products is more tailored for a family like ours. If I’m taking my kids out, I want to be efficient. I don’t want to lug my three kids around to three different stores to get different things.”
The residential units slated for the property are also attracting some attention.
Dena Aslanian-Williams is the president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council and she said they support the project if it includes housing for senior citizens although they are aware that this project includes no single-family housing.
“It makes no sense to build single-family housing in San Francisco,” Aslanian-Williams said. “What we’re interested in is not losing the single-family zoning all over the west side…. We need more housing on the west side and that site is perfect for a big development,” she said.
“I think they’re going to build some senior housing, and this is an interest that we have on the West of Twin Peaks Council, to have more senior housing here because many of us are getting to a point where we’re going to need senior housing where we want to stay on the west side….
“Having some alternative housing will get a lot of seniors out of their big, single-family homes and have a family be able to move in…. And then we can have some alternatives.”
“San Francisco, through the pandemic, has come outside,” Aslanian-Williams said. “It used to be a very indoor kind of place. People would go inside fancy restaurants. Now everybody is out on the street.”
She understands that no one is looking forward to yet more construction.
“I don’t think anybody is excited about building in San Francisco,” she said. “I think they see it as a necessity and if you’re going to have it, then you might as well give people some bells and whistles instead of building a massive development like Park Merced, with no services to support it.”