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San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square Gets a Food-Focused Makeover

October 8, 2018

Following its 1964 opening, San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square quickly became a destination for Bay Area residents. Over time, though, many locals grew disenchanted with the open-air retail and restaurant complex, one of the country’s first adaptive-reuse projects.

By 2013, when Jamestown L.P. — a real estate investment and management firm with headquarters in Atlanta and in Cologne, Germany — bought Ghirardelli Square, it had become largely a tourist draw. Jamestown now seeks to restore Ghirardelli Square as a magnet for locals and tourists alike. 

Ghirardelli Square receives some 9 million visitors yearly, according to Jamestown, which is perhaps best known for successfully repositioning New York City's mixed-use Chelsea Market. That property’s ground-floor food hall alone draws roughly 500,000 visitors per month. In March Jamestown sold Chelsea Market to Google Inc. for about $2.4 billion. 

“Our goal was to make [Ghirardelli Square] the best of San Francisco again,” said Michael Phillips, Jamestown's president, who notes that at various times the complex has been home to some trend-setting eateries. For one, the high-end, 300-seat Mandarin restaurant, founded and operated for decades by chef Cecilia Chiang, operated there from 1968 to 2006.


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It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that Jamestown has made food a focal point in its repositioning of Ghirardelli Square. The property had a significant amount of vacant space at the time of the purchase five years ago, the company says, but today this complex of red-brick buildings, with roughly 100,000 square feet of leasable retail space, is about 97 percent occupied.

Ghirardelli Square is located in the famed Fisherman’s Wharf area, and its roughly 25 shops and restaurants almost all boast local roots. CBRE’s Laura Sagues, Hollie Bried and their team handle retail strategy and lease execution for the property. “For us [the repositioning] was about fixing the food, bringing it back into balance,” said Phillips. The strategy also includes bringing in more local retail concepts and expanding the community-oriented activities, he says.

The Cheese School of San Francisco, — a locally owned and operated cheese shop, café, school and event space — opened at Ghirardelli Square this year. So did San Francisco Brewing Co. & Restaurant, a 12,000-square-foot craft brewery and restaurant with an outdoor beer garden. Pico Latin Street Food and Palette Dim Sum are set to join the lineup too by the end of this year.

Among the other recent additions are Maker Studio SF, a nonprofit that provides children’s educational programs for math, technology and engineering; and Subpar Miniature Golf.

Phillips says Jamestown will continue to make physical improvements, such as upgrading public areas and restoring the iconic Ghirardelli sign — one of the largest and most famous signs in the city. Jamestown has already upgraded certain historical elements, such as the original fountain, designed by the late Ruth Asawa, a renowned American sculptor. Jamestown also plans to bring in such merchants as those that sell artisanal foods that hail from the regional scene.

Though now more than five decades old, Ghirardelli Square continues to shape San Francisco's retail landscape and broader life in many ways, Phillips says. The center is a potential launching pad for startup companies, he says, given the high levels of exposure its tenants enjoy. Ghirardelli Square, he said, “is one of the great urban mixed-use icons."

By Anna Robaton

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today