March Meeting Recap: San Francisco’s Central Subway and Union Square

By Maria Lenhart

The BATW March 25 meeting kicked off with a tour and ride on San Francisco’s long-awaited Central Subway, with a group of members assembling at 9 a.m. at the new Chinatown-Rose Pak Station at Stockton and Washington streets in the heart of Chinatown.

 Enrique Aguilar with SFMTA introduced the station’s many unique cultural elements and art installations.

The three-minute ride to Union Square gave everyone a chance to admire the sparkling clean subway with its impressive design.

Participants then convened at the Parc 55-A Hilton Hotel for a breakfast buffet and business meeting in the Cable Car restaurant.

The meeting began with an announcement from Laurie Armstrong Gossy about the Meet the Editors event to be held online on April 1 at 10 a.m. The panel of editors will include Silas Valentino, the new travel editor of SF Gate, and BATW’s own Amy Sherman, a culinary specialist whose online publications include Alcohol Professor, The Chocolate Professor and Cheese Professor.

Gossy also announced that BATW will have a table presence at the Berkeley Book Festival on May 5. Gossy said future meetings will include a return to Jack London State Park May 21 and that meetings at Oracle Park and North Beach are in the works (the Oracle Park program has now been set for July 1).

Cindy Ramesh, director of sales and marketing for the Parc 55, welcomed the group and spoke about the advantages the hotel and its sister property, the nearby Hilton San Francisco, hold for business and leisure travelers alike. These include a total of 3,000 rooms, signature restaurants, a top-floor bar with spectacular views, one of the city’s rare outdoor swimming pools and a great location, steps from BART and the cable cars.

The impressive steps being taken to revitalize Union Square and downtown San Francisco in the post-pandemic era were outlined by Marisa Rodriguez, CEO of the Union Square Alliance. She explained that the Union Square District encompasses 27 city blocks and is a destination in its own right, one that offers over 12,000 hotel rooms and functions as the city’s premier hub for shopping, dining, transit and the arts.  The Alliance has several initiatives under way to ensure that visitors, including local residents, feel the district is a clean and safe place to enjoy.

Acknowledging the challenges, Rodriguez said Union Square has had a harder time weathering the effects of the pandemic than most other parts of the city.

“We had to shut down, so we couldn’t pivot the way other neighborhoods could,” she said. “We lost the first holiday season and then the next one. We’re the place people traditionally come to celebrate, but instead our businesses here suffered more than at any time since the Great Depression. We will come back, but it takes a while. Please share the magic of our great city.”

The regeneration of Union Square is vital to San Francisco, as it accounts for a whopping 75 percent of the city’s GDP (gross domestic product) and 40 percent of its jobs, many of them in the service industry, according to Rodriguez.

“If things don’t work here, nothing does,” she said.

Fortunately, the city is fully supportive of the Alliance and progress is already being seen, with 50 percent of retail revenue already coming back since the low point of the pandemic, according to Rodriguez.  Efforts to provide a sense of safety for visitors as well as those who work in the district include a beefed-up police presence and greater security at places such as parking garages.

Special events, including Saturday concerts, are now a bigger focus, proving to be a magnet for drawing more traffic to Union Square. These have included Tulip Day, a highly successful event in March where thousands of visitors turned out to see displays of over 80,000 tulips, and a Valentine’s Day fashion show featuring goats as models that drew a crown of 30,000. In April, the Union Square District will be blooming with floral displays.

After the meeting, Rodriguez led the group on a walking tour of Union Square, with some members extending the fun with lunch at John’s Grill, one of the city’s most historic restaurants.

Video links:

  1. The Union Square Alliance’s presentation, as seen at the Parc 55 (attached).
  2. American Tulip Day video:
  3. Winter Wanderland video:
  4. Union Square in Bloom 2023 News Release:

REMINDER: Members who attended the March 25 program are encouraged to write and post about it.  Be sure to enter your coverage here so that our hosts can learn of your work and BATW can share the value of our meetings to other prospective hosts.


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