Multi-MillionDollar "Metreon" Will Be A First For SF

Alex Chase
CNS News & Features
September 1997
(Note: Due to the age of this story, some of the information is no longer accurate. For the latest information on Sony's Metreon, visit
The cranes are moving across the skyline of San Francisco's South of Market district, and one of the results will be a high-tech entertainment facility in Yerba Buena Gardens.
Scheduled to open in fall of 1998, the $180 million Metreon will be the first in a line of Sony entertainment centers. According to Susan Sullivan, Manager of Communications and Public Relations for the Sony Corporation, the company has plans to construct similar facilities in other cities in the future.
"It will be the most cutting edge and innovative entertainment center of its time," Sullivan said in a telephone interview from her New York office. "There is nothing else in existence like it."
Among its attractions, the four-story Metreon will include a 15-screen movie theater, a 3-D IMAX theater with a screen measuring 80 feet tall by 100 feet wide, interactive children's play areas based on works by illustrators Maurice Sendak and Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius), a Sony Style interactive electronics store, a Discovery Channel Destination flagship store, as well as other retail stores, restaurants, and a venue for live performances.
Sullivan explained that the various attractions in the Metreon will work together to complement each other. For example, people will be able to watch movie previews and purchase tickets while eating at a Metreon restaurant.
"It will all work as one experience," Sullivan said.
Helen Saufe, deputy director of management for the San FranciscoRedevelopment Agency, is optimistic about the Metreon and its anticipated effect on the neighborhood

"It's going to provide another totally different experience for visitors to the (Yerba Buena) area," Saufe stated. "It will reinforce everything that's there as well as add a new constituency. I think it will be a major addition to the city."
Saufe added that the Metreon will bring more jobs to the area and increase tax revenues for the city. Sony is focusing on hiring minority and low-income employees and is actively recruiting neighborhood residents to open small businesses in the Metreon.
"It will make a big difference in the job market in the South of Market because (Sony is) really committed to that," said Anita Hill, director of the Yerba Buena Alliance.
The money from the Metreon's rent will be used for maintenance of the Yerba Buena Gardens, which will be a great benefit for the park, Saufe said. "It will be a big boost to that account."
The entertainment complex promises to bring more people to the Yerba Buena neighborhood, as well as to liven it up after business hours.
"I think it will bring a lot more people to the area, particularly in the evenings," Hill noted. "It will have a very pleasant effect on the critical mass of people walking around and enjoying themselves."
Saufe added the Redevelopment Agency does not expect the Metreon to create traffic and parking problems because its use will be spread out throughout the day, rather than just being limited to hectic business hours. In addition, the city-owned garage across the street should be able to handle the extra vehicles since it does not usually reach its capacity.
The number of visitors to Yerba Buena Gardens will probably increase significantly with the opening of the Metreon, but Hill does not think the congestion will be a problem
"The open space seems to be able to absorb large crowds. It never seems to be overcrowded, even during big events," Hill said, noting Mayor Willie Brown's inauguration as an example. "It doesn't seem like that big a space, but it seems like it absorbs large crowds well without becoming uncomfortable."
Although the Metreon will provide a large new outlet for retail merchandise and restaurants, it seems unlikely that it will present competition to existing businesses. Since the Metreon will offer primarily entertainment- and technology-related products, it will not be competitive with the major retail destinations such as the San Francisco Shopping Center and Union Square, which are mainly fashion-oriented. Additional restaurants, Hill explained, will probably be a benefit for existing ones.
"I think it's pretty well established that the more restaurants there are in an area, the more people come to that area looking for restaurants," Hill said.
The Metreon won't be competing with neighboring movie houses because there aren't any. One of the main reasons Sony selected San Francisco as the location of its inaugural Metreon is the city's limited number of big movie theaters. Its status as an "under-screened" city, as well as its largely young and affluent population, attracted Sony to San Francisco, and the Yerba Buena site proved to be an irresistible location. It's right near major museums and other cultural attractions, the BART station is only a block away, and a large parking garage is across the street.
"All these factors made it, in so many ways, not only an ideal city, but an ideal plot of land to build on," Sullivan said. "We will be part of Yerba Buena Gardens and the surrounding area, which is really becoming a cultural mecca."
Even an ideal location can have problems, however, for the site is directly above the underground ballroom of the Marriott Hotel, which is located across the street. Marriott executives refused to approve construction of the complex last fall because they did not think the Metreon's foundation could withstand an earthquake, thus jeopardizing the hotel's ballroom. Sony altered its design to include stronger foundations, and the Marriott agreed to let the project proceed. After a four-month delay, construction of the Metreon is now underway.

Photo art & page design by Scott Martin