From the outside, San Francisco's busy intersection of 4th and Mission might seem to have two shopping malls: one bustling on the northwest corner and one languid on the southeast. But if planners behind the revitalized Metreon have their way, that southeast corner will neither feel duplicative nor languid, as the complex relaunches this weekend.
"We purposely had that as one of our goals -- to make (Metreon) feel different," says Scot Vallee, vice president of development for Metreon's current owner, Westfield.
Vallee led reporters on a tour of the complex as construction crews finished surfaces, swept debris and cleaned the many windows facing Yerba Buena Gardens. Those windows, along with rows of white lights above the first-floor walkways, give the complex a brighter, airier feel than Metreon's first incarnation.
This place used to be a high-tech entertainment destination -- or at least, Sony tried to make it that. But all three of Sony's Metreons, including one in Europe and one in Japan, failed to take root. These days the Park is the star attraction, with more seating coming outside and free Wi-Fi across the area.
"We love our next-door neighbor," Vallee beams.
Westfield's concept for Metreon looks outward where Sony's looked inward. Instead of trying to create an indoor hub for people to get immersed in, the complex gives clear sight lines to the park and to 4th Street.
Shops line the street level outside where there were none before. Branded Sony stores inside gave way to a food court of local and California eateries. Foodies might appreciate some of the Bay Area-based names including Buckhorn Grill, Jillian's and San Francisco Soup Co.
Tourists should dig it, too: after all, you can get Sbarro anywhere.
Metreon's new entryway is mid-block on 4th Street between Mission and Howard, facing the Moscone West convention center. Unlike Westfield's San Francisco Centre, which appeals to fashion-loving locals, Metreon is also going for visitors and conventioneers. Muni's new Central Subway will stop right across the street from here.
For locals, Westfield negotiated with Target to attract the big-box store to a kind of space it's not usually found in. CityTarget will only take up 85,000 square feet in Metreon -- much smaller than a regular Target (126,000 square feet) or a SuperTarget (174,000 square feet). The urban store concept is also coming to Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
"You have the parking, you have the mass transportation (to draw locals), you have all the daytime people that can come here on their lunch hours, and it's easier for residents to come here on a Saturday or Sunday," Vallee explains.
The best "wow" factor may just be the location, and the amazing views of the City it provides. Fully exploiting that view meant gutting the interactive children's play area on the fourth floor themed around Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are".
Now it's an event venue called City View: 20,000 indoor square feet bordered by a 10,000-square-foot balcony. City View aims to reach event business that the convention center doesn't, like evening receptions, parties, weddings and upscale mixers.
"We had a guy last year come with a Cuban cigar roller, came up here, and just rolled cigars for the best clients out on the patio here," Vallee recalls. "(It was) really well received."
Westfield expects the first floor to be filled with open shops and restaurants over the next two months. Buckhorn opens this weekend. CityTarget comes in the fall. And the AMC Theatres built a new box office closer to the main dining area. On top of it all, the new Metreon may well have given us one of the area's new, free delights: that fourth-floor terrace view of the Yerba Buena area so vivid it can feel like you're floating over the Gardens. Westfield's Scot Vallee says it's his favorite part of the place.
"If you just want to get away, you can come up here and look and remember what's so great about San Francisco."