A vision of the Pier 70 waterfront by Forest City.

March 2013

Pier 70 Planning Continues

Keith Burbank

Under the most recent development proposal for Pier 70, space would be set aside for start-up companies that incorporate small-scale manufacturing, crafts, and the arts, with an emphasis on maintaining the site’s historic character. The proposal calls for a 270,000 square feet “creative core” within a sub-area termed the “Waterfront Site,” which consists of 25 acres located between Illinois Street and the Bay, and 20th and 22nd streets. The core could also include galleries and a cultural/performance venue. 

“The creative core will reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, create an economic engine and be a place where residents will want to spend an evening or day,” said Alexa Arena, senior vice president of Forest City’s San Francisco office, at a standing-room-only presentation held at the Noonan Building, on 20th Street, earlier this year. 

The creative core is one of four major components planned for the Waterfront Site, which would also include offices, parking and open space. And Forest City wants to construct 1,000 residential units, twenty percent of which would be affordable, spread among market-rate units. Open space will extend from the pier’s eastern edge, where the site meets the Bay, and continue westward into the center of the creative core. A network of pedestrian and bicycle pathways will crisscross the pier. And the Blue Greenway, a 13-mile greenway/waterway network that extends from China Basin to the City’s southern edge, will traverse the site. 

Two and a half million square feet of office space would flank the creative core’s north and south sides. Forest City is hoping to draw technology companies to pay premium rents for offices in the pier, as a way to subsidize rents in the core. Square, a mobile app that enables credit card transactions to be made over a smartphone or tablet, is leasing space in another Forest City project, 5M, a four-acre development at Fifth and Mission streets. That space had been unoccupied, but is now serving as a testing ground for the kind of enterprises that will be housed in buildings designed for companies like 5M. Forest City wants to do the same kind of testing at the Waterfront Site. 

Seventy percent of Waterfront Site buildings would be 50 feet or lower, with five percent 90 feet or higher, including sections as high as 235 feet. The thin sides of the tallest buildings would face Potrero Hill; ships that dock at the pier are as high as 240 feet. According to Forest City, the high rise office buildings are necessary for the development’s economic viability. The site’s density, as proposed, would be similar to Dogpatch’s, and less than Mission Bay’s. 

In response to the presentation, Dogpatch resident, Bruce Huie, said that he appreciated that Forest City was taking the time to talk with residents about the new development. According to Huie, Pier 70 is “sorely underutilized” economically and recreationally. He praised the proposal as having a good mix of uses. 

Parking and Other Challenges

On-street and garage parking, consisting of a total of 2,600 spaces, would be concentrated on the site’s western side. Parking would also be included with the office and residential space. Except for one street, no parking would be within the creative core. Forest City projects that that the site could support 12,000 jobs. During World War II, 18,500 people worked at Pier 70, according to Jack Sylvan, Forest City’s vice president of development in San Francisco. 

According to Gabriel Metcalf, San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association’s executive director, Forest City faces some challenges. “From a design perspective, the key challenge is how to knit it [the project] into the existing urban fabric of Dogpatch and Pier 70.” But he thinks the developer has “solved the problem of how to make it feel like an authentic San Francisco neighborhood. It’s a lot more like Dogpatch than Mission Bay. It’s going to be a place people actually want to spend time in. Which is very unusual for a new development. From an economic feasibility perspective, the challenge is how to pay for all the infrastructure costs; all the money that has to be invested just to get the site ready to develop.”

Improvements to the area’s sewers, water supply system and electricity and natural gas infrastructure could cost $150 million, according to Forest City. Another $90 million will be spent to rehabilitate historic edifices, principally Building 2 — a concrete structure that was used as a storehouse, and would become residences under the plan — and 12, which was used in the shipbuilding process, and is proposed as a marketplace.

Ellen Joslin Johnck, an environmental and cultural resources consultant who lives in the Northeast Waterfront Historic District — a neighborhood between the Embarcadero and Montgomery Street and Broadway and Greenwich streets — was impressed with the proposal, which she thought suggested that Forest City was trying to be community conscious. However, Johnck thought the development should include a museum or educational exhibits. 

“I thought it was well done,” said Dogpatch resident Therry Frey, of the presentation. According to Frey, the proposed development would draw pedestrians 24 hours a day. And she liked the idea of the proposed waterfront access, without which she said there wouldn’t be a neighborhood. “I am at peace with the high rises,” she said.


The Rest of the Pier

The Waterfront Site is one of five Pier 70 sub-districts. The others are Irish Hill, the future Crane Cove Park, ongoing ship repair operations, and the 20th Street historic core. All in, Pier 70 is roughly 67 acres. The park, historic core and ship repair operations take up eight, six, and 17 acres, respectively. 

Orton Development is rehabilitating six buildings that are the heart of Pier 70’s historic district. The edifices will be dedicated to a variety of uses, including office space, light manufacturing, retail, and a farmers market. Construction is expected to begin this year; the buildings may be ready for occupancy as soon as 2014. 

Plans for Crane Cove Park include the reuse of a slipway, a sloped area where ships were built or repaired. The slipway will be renovated into a gathering space, as well as a place from which non-motorized boats can be launched. The two cranes at the site will remain. People will be able to walk or cycle through the park on the Blue Greenway, which will pass through other parts of Pier 70. The Port expects construction to begin on the park in late 2014. 

Ship repair operations at Pier 70 will remain, especially in the wake of a $12 million investment in infrastructure upgrades recently made by the Port and BAE. That investment included installing shore side power, and expanding the facility so that BAE, which employs hundreds of workers, can service large modern ships. BAE is one of the Port’s highest paying tenants; having repair operations in San Francisco is important to the cruise ship industry. 

No plans have yet been developed for Irish Hill, but it will eventually become part of Pier 70’s network of open space, according to David Beaupre, Port of San Francisco’s senior waterfront planner. 

Next Steps 

Forest City plans to carry on its research into residents’ development preferences. The company is also continuing its negotiations with the Port Commission and Board of Supervisors, and will likely start the project’s environmental review process later this year. The developer hopes to garner municipal approval of its plans by 2015, and begin construction in 2016. The amount of time it will take to build the project will depend on the number of site uses and the economic conditions during its development. 

“I’m very excited for anything that will happen here,” said John Warner, owner, Dogpatch CafО, which is located at the corner of 20th and Third Streets. He said 5M is awesome, but “it will be harder to create the magic here. But hopefully they’ll hit it out of the park.” 

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