Brookfield Properties, which owns Stonestown Galleria, is seeking input from the community about the mall’s future. (Melissa Vong/S.F. Examiner)

Re-imagining Stonestown

Owners hosting gatherings to find out how to make mall a ‘place people love over the long-term.’

Nearly everyone who lives in the southwestern part of San Francisco knows the Stonestown Galleria. We go there to buy clothes, eat dinner, get help at the Apple Store’s genius bar, browse the weekly farmers market, watch a movie, or just hang out. But the closing of the two main anchor tenants — Macy’s and Nordstrom — over the last two years has some people wondering if the mall has a future.

On Oct. 7, I attended a meeting that current owner Brookfield Properties organized to get people’s input on long-range plans for Stonestown. Brookfield sees an opportunity to create a mixed-use community centered around the mall, including building housing on some of the 20 acres of parking lots.

It’s clear that there are many people who live nearby who don’t want to see any changes. They worry about increases in traffic and in car break-ins and other safety issues if more people come to Stonestown. They asked why the mall couldn’t hold onto stores, especially Macy’s and Nordstrom, even though those closures had more to do with national economic trends than Stonestown management.

I found it interesting that many of these people perceived the mall as failing. It’s not.

According to Brookfield Properties, Stonestown is a high performing shopping center, one that is successful while other malls nationwide are closing.

Built in 1952, Stonestown was originally an open-air mall, with palm trees planted along a concourse between one-story buildings that housed stores and services. Then, in 1987, Stonestown was renovated into the enclosed mall we see today. A second level was added, as was a food court, a glass ceiling, marble floors and underground parking.

And now the owner-developer is considering another reinvention at Stonestown. As Jack Sylvan, senior vice president at Brookfield Properties, told me in an email: “By considering outdoor space, adding housing, creating better ways to move around the site and providing new experiences, it can be a mixed-use community gathering space and a destination.”

Personally, I’d like to see a few stores added that cater to an older clientele now that Macy’s and Nordstrom are gone, in addition to the current ones that target a younger demographic. I’d like to see more pop-up stores, which keep retail feeling fresh and encourage people to stop in periodically and see what’s new. And I’d like to see some kind of event locale, whether inside or out, where the mall could host, for example, occasional concerts by high school choirs or professional musicians.

I’d like to see some service-oriented space in the mall where people could learn about disaster preparedness or first aid or get other useful information.

I know there are a lot of great ideas out there, and the developers want to hear all of them.

I like the idea of adding housing at Stonestown. It’s perhaps one of the best locations for a larger housing development on The City’s west side. People who move into its housing would also have shopping, restaurants and entertainment on site, with mass transit nearby.

Adding housing also harkens back to the mall’s beginnings. The Stonestown shopping center was built as part of a complex that included new housing — four 10-story apartment buildings, along with a number of smaller two- and three-story buildings that, all together, housed over 3,000 people.

Of course, adding more housing and drawing more people to the mall will increase traffic and safety concerns. Ensuring that Muni can handle the added ridership is critically important.

Brookfield’s Sylvan told me that the developer will work with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to address transportation challenges. I urge everyone to work together to resolve these issues, not just assume it can’t be done.

The meeting I attended on Oct. 7 was only the beginning. There will be more community meetings in coming months.

As Sylvan told me: “We’re having community gatherings to listen and learn what we can do to make Stonestown a place people love over the long-term.”

If you care about Stonestown and the neighborhoods around it, go to the meetings and let Brookfield Properties and city officials know what you think and what you want.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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