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Can sports and games save this drug-ridden downtown San Francisco plaza?

Pedestrians walk in front of a statue near U.N. Plaza in San Francisco on March 3, 2023. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

San Francisco’s drug-plagued United Nations Plaza could have a new skate park installed on part of it, along with chess tables and sports equipment, if city plans are approved.

Plans were filed Monday to change part of the 150,000-square-foot plaza into a skate park, adding a bar and granite ledges to grind on, plus a pyramid-shaped ledge similar to La Republique skate park in Paris, plans say. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department manages the plaza by Civic Center as part of its portfolio of over 220 city parks and playgrounds.

The park, which would run as a pilot program according to the department, would also have a replica of the classic gold San Francisco fire hydrant and chess, pingpong and Teqball tables, along with exercise equipment, according to the Planning Department. Teqball combines pingpong and soccer.

In the past, police have cracked down on playing chess in the Mid-Market area due to the potential for those areas to also host illegal gambling and drug use, although street chess in Mid-Market had been a staple since at least the 1980s.

People play chess on Market Street in San Francisco on June 26, 2012. | Carol M. Highsmith via Getty Images | Source: Getty Images

The remodel will also remove some of the plaza’s red brick paving, which recently made headlines after one of the bricks was thrown toward city officials, hitting a child in the foot. 

The skating area of the plaza would have red-tinted concrete installed in place of the bricks, which would be shipped to Treasure Island and repurposed.

A loose brick was thrown in the direction of San Francisco officials who were holding a meeting in U.N. Plaza in May. A child was hit in the foot. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

The work is planned to begin in September and take roughly six weeks to complete, according to Rec and Parks. The project’s aim is to make U.N. Plaza safer.

“The most effective way to make a public space safer, healthier and more joyous is to make it fun,” San Francisco Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg said in an email statement. “This pilot project will attempt to do just that.”

Tenderloin Merchants Association head Rene Colorado, who describes himself as an avid skater, said he supports the plan.

“I think it’s going to have a positive impact on the business community,” Colorado said. “People working in offices or on their way home are looking for stuff to do.”

Colorado, who also plans to run for supervisor in the Tenderloin, said that skateboarding is safest when it can happen in an enclosed space, such as a skate park.

A screenshot of plans for the U.N. Plaza skate park shows the skateboarding area would be roughly 15,000 square feet. | Source: San Francisco Planning/SF Recreation and Parks

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the Tenderloin, said his office has previously contacted the parks department about activating U.N. Plaza and including resident feedback to ensure that any plan would have community support, noting that the addition of chess tables was based on that input.

Preston’s office also said it wants to ensure any plan affecting the plaza will allow the Heart of the City Farmers Market to operate without any issues.

“We want to make sure U.N. Plaza serves both residents and visitors in a positive way,” Preston said.

Matt Dorsey, the supervisor of the SoMa and Mid-Market neighborhoods nearby, also said in a text that he is “supportive in general terms” of the plan.

“Activation is something we support across the board and in this area, in particular, is critical,” said SF Planning Department Chief of Staff Dan Sider. 

BART said it is not involved with the skate park plans but is supportive.

“We will coordinate closely with the City of San Francisco as this proposal moves forward to ensure easy access for transit riders as these improvements are implemented,” a BART spokesperson said in an email.

The new skate park plans come days after police in riot gear shut down the unsanctioned skateboarding event, Dolores Park Hill Bomb, on July 9, arresting more than 100 people, many of them teens, and detaining them for hours.

The arrests triggered political pressure, with local officials lambasting the police department and activists protesting the crackdown on Sunday.

A man with a bullhorn yells during a protest in San Francisco.
Tatum Wymer speaks into a megaphone during a protest against the San Francisco Police Department’s response to the Dolores Park Hill Bomb. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

The Dolores Park Hill Bomb, a yearslong tradition, has resulted in injuries in the past.

In 2017, the hill bomb involved fights and bottles thrown but no arrests; however, a collision that year between a police officer and a skater led to a proposed $275,000 settlement. As recently as 2020, after a person died at the hill bomb and several participants suffered serious injuries, city public works crews installed “Botts dots” along parts of Dolores, with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency leader Jeffrey Tumlin expressing concern for safety within multiple communities.

The Civic Center Community Benefit District did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at