SAN FRANCISCO, CA –Plans for a new and improved Portsmouth Square cleared a major hurdle after being unanimously approved by the Recreation and Park Commission Thursday, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced today.
Following a long line of speakers in support of the project, commissioners unanimously approved the concept design for the historic plaza in the heart of Chinatown and certified the Environmental Impact Report. The project is estimated to break ground next year and be completed in 2025.
The $66 million Portsmouth Square Improvement Project, which has been in the works since 2013, calls for removal of a pedestrian bridge on Kearny Street that will allow more sunlight and an additional 10,000 feet of usable space in the park, called “Chinatown’s living room.”
The complete redesign includes a cohesive layout that encourages multi-generational connections, a custom play structure, adult exercise area, outdoor event space, and 8,000-square-foot clubhouse with two stories offering programs for both seniors and youth. The renovation also calls for enhanced accessibility, as well as new seating and gathering areas, lighting, landscaping and fencing.
The project is largely funded through the 2020 Heath and Recovery Bond, with additional funding from Transit Center Impact Fees, Downtown Park Fund and grants. More than 100 meetings and six workshops were held with community members over the past four years.
“Community involvement was incredible and we received so much constructive input,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “There was a lot of enthusiasm from the community for taking down the bridge to create more space for recreation. We are thrilled to be able to move forward with this project and give Chinatown residents the modern oasis they deserve.”
Over the next year, Rec and Park will conduct additional outreach on the project’s final touches—art, an oral history project, an interpretive program and more.
Speaking on behalf of the Committee for Better Parks and Recreation in Chinatown, former Rec and Park Commissioner Allan Low called today’s approval “the final lap of a 10 year journey.”
“This concept plan was made by the community. It will be an essential space for the community and it will be the centerpiece of Chinatown,” Low said.
Portsmouth is the city’s oldest public square, the site of California’s first public school, and a former refugee camp after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It has served the Chinatown community for more than a century, providing crucial outdoor and recreational space in one of San Francisco’s densest neighborhoods. During the pandemic, it has hosted food distribution centers, COVID testing and vaccination sites, and protests against rising hate crimes targeting Asians.
“We can’t imagine Chinatown without a resilient park. It is essential for our community mentally and physically. We’re very excited about a new Portsmouth Square” said Emily Chum, director of Social Services for Self Help for the Elderly, which manages the clubhouse in Portsmouth Square.
Commissioner Vanita Louie, who played at the park as a child, said she was excited the community will get its wish.
“The only things that will miss that bridge are the pigeons,” she said.