Fisherman’s Wharf is looking to haul a new catch: San Franciscans.

The neighborhood has weathered tougher tourist seasons of late as travelers change their habits, according to a recent Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefits District Retail Strategy report.

That’s hurt the more than 400 retail establishments in the neighborhood, said Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD.

“It’s been a steady progression towards this,” Campbell told the San Francisco Examiner. Transit changes like steeper cable car prices have contributed to a decline of tourists along Taylor Street, and changing tourist tastes have left the tchotchke-heavy Fisherman’s Wharf stores challenged.

“The millennial generation are more into experiences and less into souvenirs,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the organization hopes to make the Wharf “appeal to both visitors and locals. And when I say locals, I mean literally people that live within Russian Hill, North Beach, Aquatic Park and those areas.”

Only about 14 percent of the Wharf’s 16 million annual visitors were San Franciscans, according to the report. About 39 percent of visitors were from California, including residents of The City, 30 percent hailed from other U.S. states, and about 31 percent were international visitors.

The CBD report, released in April and was reported by Hoodline, was brought to the San Francisco Port Commission on August 14, where Campbell made his pitch for support from the port. It outlines a decade-long plan, with some goals attainable in just the next two years, Campbell told the Port.

A survey of local stakeholders and visitors revealed challenges for the Wharf, including crowding, which contributes to the idea the Wharf is a “tourist trap,” and a lack of local offerings, lack of established nightlife, poor sidewalk lighting and a view that the Wharf has too many “gritty, dirty, smelly public spaces.” The recently announced closure of an Orchard Supply Hardware also presents a challenge to luring locals, Campbell said.

To address those issues, the Wharf CBD has proposed enhancing transit because 75 percent of its visitors arrive by streetcar, bike, walking or ride-hail. The plan calls for boosting pedestrian and bicycle access to the Wharf, adding streetcars to whisk tourists to the Wharf, extending streetcar lines to the area and widening sidewalks and brightening Jefferson Street through the $13 million Jefferson Street Improvement Project’s second phase which is set for construction in spring 2019.

But changing the face of retail in the Wharf is also key, according to the report: The Wharf’s businesses will coordinate to develop new nighttime events and extend business hours, lure new “late night tenants” and create a social media campaign to promote “Night-time at the Wharf.”

That image campaign is particularly important, said Sina von Reitzenstein, vice president of leasing at Pier 39.

“It’s really more of an awareness thing,” she said. “Locals do come here, they just pretend that they don’t.”

Cannabis businesses and potential new breweries could stir local love, Campbell said. Already the Wharf plays host to a Cost Plus World Market, Ross, Trader Joe’s and Safeway, all of which draw locals, he added, but nightlife is key to drawing more foot traffic.

At the August 14 Port meeting, Port Commissioner Gail Gilman lauded Campbell’s strategy.

“I know it’s hard sometimes for locals to get there,” Gilman said, and asked for check-ins with the Port. Port Commissioner Doreen Woo Ho was also enthusiastic, but asked Campbell how the Wharf could control what types of businesses move in to lure locals, versus more tourist-heavy draws.

“You can’t force it, but hopefully you can encourage it,” she said.

Campebell answered that’s exactly right: “It’s really leading horses to water.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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