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Macy’s hopes to lease more ground floor space to retailers on street facing Union Square

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Macy’s filed an application in March for a permit to alter the Union Square store’s Geary Street facade. The Historic Preservation Commission will review the permit request on Wednesday, as the building includes historic facades. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Following the sale of two of its San Francisco properties this year, Macy’s is looking to invest in its Union Square flagship location by revamping its Geary Street facade.

Specifically, the box retailer plans to add three new entrances and reconfigure its ground-floor retail spaces into three separate store fronts.

An application for a major permit to alter the Macy’s facade at 235 Geary St. was filed in March is currently under review by the San Francisco Planning Department. On Wednesday, the permit request will go before the Historic Preservation Commission.

Bounded by Geary, Stockton, O’Farrell and Powell streets, the property owned by Macy’s spans almost an entire city block and includes both historic and non-historic facades. According to an initial review of the project, the overhaul would target the retailer’s northern facade that faces Union Square.

According to Planning Department documents, 235-281 Geary St. was constructed in 1998, taking the place of two older buildings on the site that were demolished two years prior.

The Geary Street facade has a wall that is set back two feet from the property line. The facade is not historically protected.

Elisa Skaggs, an architect with Page and Turnbull, the historic architecture, planning and preservation firm heading the proposed redesign, called the alterations a “pretty benign project” that entails the addition of new retailers.

Eight large display windows, some covered with advertising banners, flank Macy’s main entrance on Geary Street and currently offer passersby a view of the department store’s ground-floor level, which hosts vendors and a tangle of escalators.

The redesign would include removing three existing storefront windows east of the main entrance and replacing them with a double-door entryway and two new storefronts, according to initial design plans. To the west of the main entrance, five storefront windows will be replaced with two new entrances and three storefronts.

The entrances will come with illuminated marquees, and the storefronts will be leased out to new tenants, according to design plans.

The design envisions box storefronts that extend beyond the face of the building.

Macy’s spokesperson Monica Gubrud confirmed that “work is being done on the storefronts facing Geary Street,” but said the company had no “additional details to share at this time.”

While addressing investors in June, Macy’s head of real estate, Doug Sessler, likened the box storefronts to “a series of jewel boxes across the front of the store.

“They’ll have 18 to 20 foot ceilings and … they will really enliven the activity in front of the store,” Sessler said at the time, adding that the retail spaces are expected to rent “in the $600 to $700 square foot range net.”

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced it would be taking a new direction to streamline its store portfolio and reorganize its field structure to support remaining stores.

In January, Macy’s sold its 280,000 square foot store at Stonestown Galleria. The complex is set to be redeveloped into a movie theater and host several retail and restaurant spaces.

Macy’s also sold the seven-story building at 120 Stockton St. that for four decades operated as the Macy’s Men’s store, but has leased the space back.

In response to growing online competition and slow sales, earlier this year Macy’s announced plans to shutter more than 60 stores nationwide by spring.

“Retail is certainly undergoing a change right now — we are seeing smaller storefronts,” said Karin Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District. “It would make sense for them to have less retail space and try to see what they can do on the upper floors that’s not retail, like renting out office space.”

Flood said that while the Union Square commercial district hosts a variety of stores — from department stores to luxury boutiques — that “do well,” she called Union Square and Macy’s “synonymous.”

“It would be interesting to see what their plans are and how the building and park will complement each other,” she said. “We are open to any property owner wanting to improve and upgrade their buildings as it contributes to the vitality [of the district].”

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