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In Buying a Building, Taiwan Bets Big on Struggling Downtown San Francisco

Written by Han LiPublished Jun. 28, 2023 • 6:00am
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office spent nearly $53 million for the newly constructed building in SoMa at 345 Fourth St. | Isaac Ceja/The Standard

As headlines about San Francisco’s beleaguered Downtown trend nationwide, one foreign government has eyed an opportunity.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its territory, has spent an unprecedented amount of money to acquire a building in SoMa that will be the new home of its local diplomatic facility, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

The office building, located at 345 Fourth St., is a brand-new, seven-story site with 56,000 square feet of space. The economic and cultural office currently rents two floors at 555 Montgomery St. in the Financial District.

“Buying properties for overseas diplomatic facilities (駐外館處) has been a policy of Taiwan’s government for over 20 years,” Scott Lai, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, told The Standard in Mandarin. “To rent for a long term is not cost-effective.”

In addition to a workplace for staffers, the new office building will serve multiple functions, from processing visas to hosting large social events. Taiwan’s current cultural and economic center in Chinatown will be relocated to the new building.

A rendering show the event space design concept of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office's new building in San Francisco. | Courtesy photo

Lai said his team is currently in the midst of a design process, with renovation expected to start in October. The grand opening is scheduled for the end of 2024.

Record-Breaking Investment

In 2020, Taiwan’s government passed an unprecedented budget of $2.28 billion in New Taiwan Dollars (or $73.5 million in U.S. dollars) to purchase and renovate a new San Francisco office in the next three years. That sum represented the largest amount allocated toward a diplomatic property purchase in the government’s history. In 2004, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office’s New York outpost cost approximately NTD $1.7 billion. 

After touring 15 properties, Lai said the agency decided to buy the SoMa property project earlier this year. The price tag was about $53 million. Equivalent buildings in Denver and Boston were purchased for considerably less.

Scott Lai, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, speaks with reporters. | Maggy Zhang

“We got lucky,” Lai said. “There are many empty buildings Downtown now because of the pandemic.”

Politics may play a role in the high-profile purchase as well. Taiwan’s status has been a major sticking point in relations between Beijing and Washington, D.C. 

Last year, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island, and earlier this year, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Southern California, triggering strong protests from Beijing and eroding the superpowers’ relationship.

Taipei Economic and Cultural Office is planned for a newly constructed building at 345 Fourth St. in San Francisco's SoMa District, pictured on June 9, 2023. | Isaac Ceja/The Standard

Lai says the building’s acquisition demonstrates Taiwan’s determination to improve its connections with the U.S., while China has been objecting to any formal interactions between the two.

“Taiwan is in a good relationship with the U.S. now,” Lai said. “Buying this building will have a positive impact on the relationship in the future.”

Han Li can be reached at

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