Shopping and entertainment

Expanded Westfield a bridge between Metreon and Yerba Buena Center

The expanded Westfield San Francisco Centre celebrates its grand opening Thursday, creating a week-long bacchanal of consumer and historic delights.

The event marks the opening of the renovated Emporium building, an eight-floor complex of shopping, dining and class-A office space that connects to the existing shopping center at Fifth and Market, across from the Powell Street cable car terminal. The center lies between Fourth and Fifth streets, with entrances on Mission and Market streets.

The $460 million project has been underway since 1996, when Australian firm The Westfield Group (WDC) purchased the existing center and shortly thereafter agreed to partner with Forest City Enterprises Inc. (FCY) of Cleveland to renovate and connect the historic Emporium department store building,which closed in 1996 after a century of operation. The two have a 50/50 partnership in the center, with the Westfield Group providing leasing and management. The companies also purchased the nearby Metreon shopping center and cinema complex this spring. They are calling the Westfield, which has a Bloomingdales entrance on Mission Street, a bridge between Market Street and the Metreon and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts area on Mission.

Adolf Feist opened the original Emporium in 1896, renting out space to individual merchants, according to records of the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. The Emporium’s main location closed for two years after it withstood the 1906 earthquake but was torched in the ensuing fire. It re-opened in 1908 and remained a shopping destination until its closure.

As such, the question of historic preservation stirred controversy as plans to redevelop the site were underway. In the end, the companies preserved the Emporium’s Beaux-Arts sandstone Market Street façade, designed by San Francisco architect Albert Pissis, as well as the historic dome. The interior was designed with open spaces so that every floor of the new eight-story Westfield San Francisco Centre receives light and views of the glass dome, said Maurine Collins, Westfield development marketing director.

“We really feel that the dome will drive a lot of people up through the shopping center,” she said.

The renovation expanded the center from 500,000 to 1.5 million square feet. The companies have said the center will provide approximately 3,300 jobs, including nearly 2,000 new jobs, and is projected to generate more than $600 million in annual retail sales and $17.5 million annually in local taxes and fees. There were 770 union construction jobs generated by the main renovation, and an uncounted number of other jobs generated by each store’s construction. The opening is a boon to a major tourist and retail corner in San Francisco, said Michael Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

“It undoubtedly will be a benefit,” Cohen said. “In part, simply [because of] the amount of activity it will generate. When the Emporium building was dark, it was a drag on that block. It was a dead zone on an incredibly important block on an incredibly important street in San Francisco. I think we’re thrilled with the end product.”

For the average San Franciscan or tourist, such as Russian Hill resident Chihoko Yamanaka, the excitement of the center’s grand opening revolves around its shopping rather than its political and public-policy aspects. In that arena, the center’s staff is extremely pleased with their accomplishments. The combined center has more than 150 stores. More than half of those in the renovated section are new to San Francisco, and some are new concepts — such as Neda by Bebe, a new store from the Brisbane womanswear company named after Neda Mashouf, the company’s vice chairwoman of the board.

Other new-to-San Francisco stores include the country’s second-largest Bloomingdales, which joins Nordstrom in anchoring the center, as well as the 16,000-square foot Burke Williams Day Spa, men’s specialty store The Art of Shaving, Italian luxury goods store Furla, premium vintage denim store Blu by Antik Denim and American Eagle Outfitters new venture Martin + OSA.

“We definitely looked for tenants that are new to this city,” Collins said. “It’s a major accomplishment on behalf of our leasing people.”

Other offerings include a retail store for handheld device merchant Palm, Abercrombie Kids and teen clothing store Hollister. There are also new locations for established San Francisco favorites, such as the Kozo Arts paperie, the Mai Do stationary store and jeweler John Atencio.

If patrons tire of shopping, they can always take in a movie, a tried-and-true formula demonstrated in suburban malls throughout the country. A nine-screen Century Theatres cinema will occupy 53,000 square feet of the fifth level.

There are other ways the Westfield San Francisco Centre is making it easy to hang around just a little longer. In addition to seven restaurants and a high-end “Food Emporium” that twists traditional food court layout with gourmet food and real china and utensils, the center has a “Family Lounge.” Located on the Food Emporium level, it features a diaper changing station, diaper wipe warmers, bottle warming, a microwave, plush carpeting, private nursing stations and a big-screen plasma television. Child care is not offered.

The upper four stories of the expansion contain 245,000 square feet of office space. Nearly half of that is leased to San Francisco State University’s Executive MBA and College of Extended Learning programs.

kwilliamson@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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