Peace Plaza construction aims to start soon

San Francisco Japantown’s Peace Plaza. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei News

The San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza renovation project readies entering its construction phase as a groundbreaking ceremony date is set, but the necessary traffic mitigations for the Japan Center Malls looms as a concern for the 18-month-long project.

Beverly Ng, deputy director of policy and public affairs at the San Francisco Recreation & Parks department, said during the March 26 Japantown Task Force Peace Plaza Committee meeting, the project’s ground breaking ceremony will take place April 27, featuring Mayor London Breed, Assemblyman Phil Ting and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The $33 million project secured funds from city, state and federal sources as pandemic-era inflation raised the costs from an initial estimate of some $24 million.

The renovation, principally an effort to fix the leakage issues between the plaza and the city-owned garage located underneath, will also give a facelift to the 56-year-old plaza, last renovated in 2000. The 18-month-long construction project will start after the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival slated for mid-April, and is expected to disrupt several annual events, including the festival next year, along with two iterations of the Nihonmachi Street Fair and Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival.

According to Marien Coss, project manager of the renovation at Rec and Parks, the project will close the plaza but keep the main entryways into the Japan Center East and West Malls open for most of the construction. Construction plans, however, necessitate the full closure of the entrances for around 10 days to do demolition work on the existing plaza at the start of the project and then to finish construction later, although an exact date of the closure has yet to be named.

“For 90 percent of the time, there’s going to be access into the mall from Post Street and through the Plaza, which is through the construction site. But there are going to be times when there’s work being done right in front of the entrances,” Coss said during the committee meeting. “They’re minimal time within the length of the several years that we’re going to be doing this, but it’s still something that is going to require a lot of thought, and I really appreciate that Rich (Hashimoto, co-chair of the committee and president of the Japantown Merchants Association) has been leading this group to help us identify all of the potential kind of areas of conflict.”

Currently, the alternative routes into the malls include taking the elevator and stairs up from the subsurface parking garage accessible through either Geary Boulevard or Post Street, or the street level entrance next to the Hotel Kabuki for the East Mall. The recently leased KOHO Co-Creative Hub space on the second floor of the East Mall, the former Ichiban Kan space accessible from Post Street, will also serve as a thoroughfare according to Susie Kagami, KOHO’s executive director.

Hashimoto and Coss have met with representatives of both the Japan Center Malls and Kinokuniya Building to discuss the construction plans in late March. Hashimoto, who was present in Japantown for the last plaza renovation in 2000, said sufficient wayfinding signage should prevent any confusion for patrons trying to make their way around the entrance closures. However, Greg Viloria, a representative of the Japan Center Malls, noted during an earlier Ad Hoc Japan Center Malls Committee meeting held March 11, that time was short to develop the necessary signs. Viloria also said while foot traffic in the West Mall is likely healthy enough, especially during weekends, he was concerned for the East Mall, which already sees considerably less foot traffic.

Grace Horikiri, executive director of the Japantown Community Benefit District, said she is waiting to hear back on a grant from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce Development to help with construction mitigation efforts.

“We’re gonna do our best to do whatever we can to create wayfinding signs so that visitors know that there are other ways to get inside the malls. But also, in the bigger picture, work with city agencies, like SFMTA, to see how we can get ads on their buses to show that Japantown is still open during construction,” Horikiri told the Nichi Bei News. “I think the CBD’s power is really our contacts with the city, our contacts with our other vendors to push the message out that Japantown is still open for everyone to come and visit us.”

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