The City checks out The Big Apple

San Francisco officials and business executives may be sporting “I ? NY” T-shirts next week after spending five days in The Big Apple. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s eighth annual CityTrip leaves Tuesday for New York City with 48 delegates eager to learn from New York VIPs.

CityTrip is essentially a field trip for adults organized by the chamber. The trip is open to anyone who works in San Francisco. Travelers include public officials, nonprofit community leaders and business executives.

This year’s CityTrippers include José Cisneros, city treasurer; R. Michael Alexander, president and CEO of Kaiser Permanente; Ann Lazarus, president of the San Francisco Port Commission; and Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, to name a few. Mayor Gavin Newsom usually attends CityTrip, but this year he will opt out due to scheduling conflicts. He may join the delegates on the first night’s activities, since he will be on the East Coast, but those plans are indefinite.

Delegates do not have to be members of the chamber, but they do have to pay for themselves. This year, delegates paid between $4,200 and $4,700. The fee includes airfare, ground travel, meals, tips and accommodations. The chamber votes upon the destination, but members say New York City has been a favored choice for a long time.

“New York has been on the chamber’s radar screen for a number of years, but we tried to look at cities that have faced particular issues that are top of mind for San Francisco,” said Steve Falk, chamber president and CEO.

“In the late ’90s we wanted to go to New York, but we could never agree on it because it was so expensive, and they want to make sure that everyone who wants to go won’t be priced out,” said Sylvia Kwan, president of Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning Inc., San Francisco, who will be going to New York on her fourth CityTrip. “I’m very happy to see that in 2006 we feel that all the people in the chamber can afford to go.”

The first CityTrip was in 1998 when the group traveled to Boston. The tour has since been to Austin, Texas, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Diego and Vancouver, B.C., in that order.

Delegates say that New York’s waterfront is high on their list of things to learn about.

“I’m really quite interested in the Chelsea Piers development because waterfront development is somewhat at the forefront,” said Mariann Costello, VP of Scoma’s Restaurant in San Francisco. “I’ve been down here 22 years and there has been quite a bit going on about the renovation of the piers lately.”

Delegates will be meeting with Tom Bernstein and David Tewksbury, president and executive VP of the Chelsea Piers and Rafael Cestero, deputy commissioner for development for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Transportation is another subject of particular interest to this year’s delegates. The chamber has arranged for tours of Grand Central Terminal after meeting with representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“I think that the half a day at Grand Central Terminal is of particular interest as we wrestle with all of the issues here with Transbay and high-speed rail and how we combine that with more downtown housing,” Falk said.

Kwan said downtown housing is an area the delegates paid particularly close attention to in Vancouver and will continue to concentrate on in New York. With all of this learning, Kwan is quick to point out that the trip is no vacation.

“They work us to our bones,” she said. “It’s lots of information and lots of great, seriously connected people. They talk about education, their parks, their programs, these people know their city. They work us so hard, but we play really hard too.”

Delegates get one evening to themselves.

Upon returning, the chamber will host debriefing meetings to discuss how to actually implement the lessons they learned. CityTrips of years passed have resulted in very tangible progress for San Francisco.

“The Washington, D.C., CityTrip introduced city leaders to the concepts of tracking accountability using new technologies and the series of CityStat programs resulted,” said Carol Piasente, VP of communications and events for the chamber. “In Vancouver, we saw how neighborhoods of high-rise residential towers can be designed to appeal to a broad mix of families and individuals. The new units planned for Rincon Hill are reflective of the Vancouver style.”

Kwan said Austin was a great place to learn about taking advantage of a city’s universities, and Piasente said Chicago gave delegates a “renewed commitment to beautifying the urban landscape.”

Delegates say they would like to consider Dublin, Ireland, and Philadelphia, New Orleans and Atlanta for future CityTrip destinations.

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