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One of the coolest neighborhoods on the planet will get a better park

Officals join local school students to break ground on the renovation of Esprit Park in Dogpatch on Jan. 20, 2023. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

What began 40 years ago as a private outdoor space for garment workers to eat lunch is now one of the only parks in one of the city’s fastest-growing—and coolest—neighborhoods. 

City officials and neighborhood advocates met at 20th and Minnesota today for a groundbreaking to celebrate the renovation of Esprit Park in Dogpatch. The project aims to make the park more durable, sustainable and valuable to its large number of 21st-century neighbors, including children and dogs. 

“People power gets things done in this community,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who addressed the groundbreaking’s crowd of neighbors, dogs and students from Red Bridge school student along with the groundbreaking with SF Recreation and Parks general manager, Phil Ginsburg, and other officials. “It was a long road to get here for sure but we’re excited to break ground on something that this community can enjoy for the century to come.”

Students from Red Bridge school in Dogpatch play at the groundbreaking for Esprit Park's renovation. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Long before Dogpatch was cool, the Esprit Park began life in 1982 as an outdoor space for a few dozen workers at the headquarters for the nearby 1980s clothing empire, Esprit de Corps. At the time, few residents lived nearby aside from artists in warehouses. (Read more about Esprit and its influential fashion and founders here.)

Esprit’s environmentally-minded founders, Susie Tompkins Buell and Doug Tompkins donated the park to the city in 2001. SF Rec & Parks last completed a renovation of the park in 2005.

Dogpatch began life as a maritime industrial space on the eastern, bay side of the city. The hip spot was named the 36th coolest neighborhood on the planet by London’s Time Out magazine in 2022.

The area is also a center for housing and business expansion in the city, with 2,500 units of housing approved by the Board of Supervisors. In fact, a representative from UCSF speaking at the event estimated that by 2030, 50,000 people will be living in the area and 100,000 people will come and go during the day.

Redwoods surround the meadows at Esprit Park in Dogpatch. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Given the growing and evolving population near the park, patrons struggled with its “one open meadow” design. Today, rowdy dogs occasionally annoy children at play, and vice versa. The two sides tussled over the project’s design, dragging out the completion of the planned renovation. 

The park’s new design bisects the 2-acre meadow into separate areas—one for off-leash canines and one for others—while keeping its simple layout and winning its neighbors’ support.

The 40-year-old redwood forest surrounding the meadows will be refreshed and planted areas will be expanded. New seating, paths and exercise areas will also be added in the design from Fletcher Studio Landscape Architecture & Urban Design.

An artist's renderings of redesigned pathways at the Esprit Park | Courtesy SF Recreation & Parks

The $8.5 million renovation will take one year to complete. UCSF donated $5 million of the funding to enhance outdoor access for students and workers at its Mission Bay campus, which lies just a 10-minute walk away. The remainder of the funds will come from the city’s Eastern Neighborhoods Development Impact Fees.

SF Rec & Parks collaborated closely with the community through its Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District, as well as UCSF, to design a park that will better serve its neighbors of today.

The park is the latest in a bounty of new outdoor recreation areas that have opened around the city in the past year, including Tunnel Tops, Battery Bluff, Francisco Park and the move to make JFK Drive and the Great Highway forever car-free.

Get updates on the Esprit Park renovation on the SF Rec & Parks website.