June 2014

Giants at Bat for Large Development

July Westhale

While the Golden State Warriors’ pivot to Mission Bay has captured the lion’s share of sports-related development attention, the San Francisco Giants are similarly in the process of developing another nearby area, at the Port’s Seawall Lot 337 and Pier 48. Under the Giants’ proposal, land that currently serves mostly as a parking lot would be transformed into a park, rental housing, commercial space for shops and eateries, and a new Anchor Steam Brewing Company pub. 

According to project proponents, the development will provide Mission Bay residents with needed services and retail, and add housing, including affordable units. Opponents are concerned about traffic, transit capacity in the area, and the role the Giants are playing in developing the property. An additional complication is that passage of Proposition B, the Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act, which is on this month’s election ballot, would require any future development on Port land that exceeds existing height limits to be approved by the voters. The Giants’ current proposal includes a 380-foot tower, at least six times higher than what’s allowed under zoning rules. Last month, the Giants said they intended to downsize their development plans.

The public planning process for the project began in the early 2000s, when the Port called for development proposals that met the City’s vision in terms of building characteristics and community amenities. Current plans call for 600 to 1,500 residential rental units, and 150,000 to 200,000 square feet of commercial space. 

“The community has always been an important part of the planning process. We’ve been working with local residents and investors since 2007 on a plan for the site,” said Phil Williamson, Port of San Francisco project manager. “Plans will change, as they tend to over time and with community input. We’ve been continuously refining the project since then, and the main revision we’ve seen in the plan since 2007 was the estimated amount of time necessary for development. Since the economy suffered, the project was stalled, as there was a need to look at what the market was doing.” 

According to the Port’s website, optimally the project would launch next year, with staggered design and building occurring through 2021. That timeframe, however, seems unlikely. 

“There is still a lot more community outreach to do in order to get the look and feel of this project,” said Williamson. “Based on our research and homework, we know that there is support in the community for projects like this, no matter what the outcome of the June vote. What the final heights are remain to be seen. We remain encouraged by the input we’ve received so far, and our take-away is there is still support for some height at the site.” Building up instead of out would allow for more density and open space; current plans call for eight acres of park space. 

While Port staff are enthusiastic about the project, others aren’t as sure. “Among the most complicated parts of the job: the site has none of the infrastructure that you need for intensive residential and commercial development. So the first step – and it won’t be cheap – is to do the water, sewer, electrical, and road work. The price tag: $120 million,” wrote Tim Redmond in his blog, 48 Hills. The project’s cost isn’t Redmond’s only concern. Because it’s funded by private investors, the Giants are financing efforts to make the lot development-ready. “It’s odd that the City is in effect hiring a private developer to do public works, and then paying a premium for the service. Under the terms of the deal, San Francisco will use a combination of sources, including rent credits and bond money – that is, borrowed money – to repay the Giants, not only for the work that’s been done, but for a 20 percent guaranteed profit; on public-works infrastructure to serve a private development.” 

Redmond is also concerned about public transportation, stating that Muni is already overloaded with passengers traveling San Francisco’s Southside neighborhoods. Adding an infrastructure of the magnitude of the Seawall project would require that the City upgrade and expand Muni, particularly the T-line, which is already congested during Giants’ game days. Redmond’s concerns are backed by San Francisco’s development history; he points out that there’s yet to be a project of this size that has fully paid the cost of the public transportation it requires. 

The Giants are "…revisiting the project, they’re reconsidering the height limits,” former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos said. Agnos said he was confident that the team will come up with something palatable.

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