Former Potrero Power Plant Site to Reemerge as Mixed-Use Development

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Potrero Power Plant remediation work in progress. Photo: Jacob Bourne

The Potrero Power Plant, located on the Central Waterfront, and its predecessors supplied San Francisco with electricity from 1890 until the facility’s 2011 closure. Since then, the site has been unused, soaked with toxic chemicals from more than one hundred years of industrial activities. Associate Capital purchased the 21-acre property last fall from NRG Energy, and expects to submit a development application to the City this month.

Although Associate Energy owns the land, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is responsible for its environmental remediation. To facilitate clean-up activities, Associate Capital removed three large above-ground tanks that, until 1999, had stored hundreds of thousands of gallons of petrochemicals. 

“The first milestone was the removal of massive tanks from the site,” said P.J. Johnston, Associate Capital spokesperson. “They were out of commission for many years, and were painstakingly removed over the last couple months, allowing PG&E to study the ground under them.”

PG&E has remediated three out of the site’s seven contaminated areas. The investor-owned utility is in the early stages of assessing what remediation will need to be conducted of the ground underneath where the tanks had stood. The San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board must approve any remediation plan before actual work begins.

“Remediation work in three of the four remaining areas is expected to be completed by 2020, leaving only the tank farm area, which remained unaccessible until this year,” stated Andrea Menniti, media spokesperson, PG&E. “The work timeline for the tank farm area will be largely informed by the results of the upcoming investigation.”

Associate Capital has initiated discussions with the San Francisco Planning Department about a mixed-use development, potentially totaling about three million square feet, that’ll open up a stretch of the waterfront that’s been closed to the public for more than a century. The project is among other Bayfront developments, such as Pier 70 and Mission Rock, that’ll radically alter the Waterfront’s characteristics.

Pier 70, which is similarly emerging as a mixed-use development by Forest City, borders the power plant lands to the north. Maryland Street, an arterial road that’ll run from north to south through the Forest City development, will likely connect with Associate Capital’s property.

“Our whole goal is that ten years from now, when this is all built, that you won’t be able to tell where Pier 70 begins and where this project ends,” said Enrique Landa, principal, Associate Capital.

Associate Capital’s project could add about 1,500 housing units, as well as space for retail, research and development, offices, and production, distribution and repair (PDR). Based on preliminary conceptual plans, recreational and open space will be an integral part of the scheme, including ground-level and rooftop areas, athletic fields, and access to the Bay Trail. The former power plant’s iconic smokestack and adjoining structure will be retained and adapted into a waterfront hotel.

Associate Capital publicly presented its conceptual plans last summer, with a common response being “don’t make it like Mission Bay.” Community members emphasized the importance of transit connectivity, walkability and a mix of heights.

According to Landa, his company wants to develop a combination of uses that engender activity seven days a week, extending into the evenings. In addition to walkable streets, the developer has committed to ensuring transit connections from Bay Area Rapid Transit stations to the project. A full-size grocery store and centralized parking garage have been proposed.

“Dogpatch has a really gritty, funky sort of PDR use, along with residential and commercial,” Landa commented. “We really want to put in uses that don’t necessarily fit in other parts of Dogpatch over here, to allow it to be one functioning, vibrant neighborhood.”

Kristen Hall, an architect at Perkins + Will who is working on the design, said that key principles guiding the site’s planning process include creating an active public waterfront, engendering a diversity of uses, celebrating the location’s industrial history, and emphasizing walkability, bicycle access and transit. She highlighted the key role recreational and open space and financial feasibility will play in the project. Environmentally sustainable features and design elements that address sea level rise will be incorporated.

Landa said that his company takes sea level rise seriously, and is studying how much the site will need to be raised based on sea level rise predictions. He added that the location is higher than Pier 70, and, as a result, fewer mitigations to protect from elevating water levels may be needed than in other nearby projects.