Pier 70 Designs Taking Shape

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shipyardOver the past year, the Port of San Francisco, developers – Orton Development, Inc. and Forest City Enterprises, Inc. – and the ship repair company, BAE Systems, Inc., have held public events, calculated rehabilitation costs for historic buildings, and fine-tuned their plans for Pier 70.   The roughly 69 acre pier has been largely closed to the public for more than 40 years.

Forest City will transform a 28-acre space in the site’s center and south end into condominium blocks, as well as green, retail, event, and artists’ space. Orton will rehabilitate eight historic office and industrial buildings and create open space on approximately five acres along 20th Street, east of Illinois. BAE will continue to occupy the remaining land, which constitutes a shipyard and two dry docks on the pier’s north central end. 

The Port is creating a nine-acre park, Crane Cove Park, in an area bounded by Mariposa Street on the north, Illinois Street on the east, a planned continuation of 19th Street on the south, and the Bay.   The park is one of the project’s most long-awaited spaces, said David Beaupre, senior waterfront planner for the Port of San Francisco.  “The Port is finishing up its schematic design and is aiming to finish the detailed design and drawings by the end of 2015. We’ll put the site out to bid in the spring of 2016, with an expected completion date in the fall of 2017,” he said.

The park will open in two phases: first 19th Street east, then rehabilitation of the historic slipway. Since the ground has been exposed to contaminants, the Port will cover the site.  “Crane Cove Park sits lower than Illinois Street right now. We will bring it up with between nine and two feet of new, clean soil. Alternatively, we’ll pave over areas with impervious surfaces,” said Beaupre.

Beaupre said one of the park’s highlights will be a beach with waterfront access for kayaks, other small human-powered craft, and sailboats.   “San Francisco has a very active human-powered boat community that has long been saying Crane Cove Park is the perfect place for a beach,” said Beaupre.

“It is a great thing to see development in that part of the City so that it gets brought back to life,” said Matthew O’Grady, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, a nonprofit environmental organization that supports and advocates for neighborhood parks.  “The Crane Cove Park design is a pretty cool mix, where the Port will utilize and preserve a number of relics that have been left behind, including cranes, chunks of steel, and bits of parkway,” he said.

The two large cranes now standing at the site, locally known as “Nick and Nora,” will remain.   O’Grady said the park will provide “a place where kids and adults could actually get their toes wet in the Bay. There won’t be another beach until India Basin.”

Bill Dunbar, general manager of BAE Systems, Inc., said his company is donating historic equipment it no longer uses to the Port to decorate the park. “They’ll select what they want and scrap the rest,” said Dunbar. “A buoy line will barricade the water around the dry dock area to make people aware that they have to stay away. We need to keep people at least 300 feet away from the dry dock vessels.” BAE has only three ship transfers a month, so “there’s not a lot of in and out.”

BAE will continue operations throughout the pier development process. Approximately ten labor unions are represented in the company’s workforce. The number of workers fluctuates between 175 and 350, and is dependent on the projects at the shipyard. Roughly 30 percent of BAE’s workforce is comprised of City residents.  “We work on cruise ships and tanker freighters. We sandblast and paint the ships when they’re out of the water. We do machinery work, taking the propellers off and cleaning them,” said Dunbar.

BAE’s lease with the Port has a “good neighbor” provision. “We set up a forum with Forest City and Orton. Forest City is looking now, at least along our border, to locate more businesses. This will keep the residential development from hearing the noise from our work,” said Dunbar.  The lease requires BAE to remove PCB transformers from its site.  Rather than run on diesel fuel, ships in dry dock draw from the City’s power grid.

According to James Madsen, a partner at Orton Development, Inc., his company is anxious to get its portion of the pier up and running. The buildings that Orton is repairing first served as Union Iron Works’ headquarters. Later, the structures became Bethlehem Steel offices. In 2014, the National Park Service listed Orton’s Pier 70 parcel as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.

Orton is working on the design for public space in the form of a European piazza, which will be “mainly hardscape,” or paved areas, such as sidewalks. The piazza will be located close to Buildings 113, 114, 115, and 116 on the south side of the company’s site.  Piazza uses will vary with the time of day. “In the morning, there will be a green market and you’ll be able to get a cup of coffee. In the afternoon, you can get lunch. In the evenings, there’ll be dinner, entertainment, and drink options. On the weekends, we’re planning to have concerts and events,” said Madsen.

Orton plans to create an indoor atrium in Building 113. The approximately 10,000 square foot glass enclosed space will serve as a pathway between Crane Cove Park and the piazza.  According to Madsen, construction will take place in stages as tenants arrive, with the first occupants expected to move in next summer. Orton hopes to open up public areas of its property in early 2017.

Madsen said Orton’s buildings will see a mix of uses; the company hasn’t yet announced tenants for the historic structures. Currently, the developer is resolving a number of repair concerns, including seismic issues – bricks are crumbling or falling out – security, broken windows, maintaining fences near buildings under construction, making the site Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, and weatherproofing. “We’re stopping all the decay that’s been happening,” said Madsen.

“On the inside, they’re going to be very beautiful, very striking. All of the historic elements will be preserved. There will be new tenant improvements that don’t impact the historic features but allow for modern use,” said Madsen.

According to Madsen, local residents, including the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA), have been “huge supporters” of Orton’s part of the project. “I think they understood that what we’re doing is a little different than new construction,” said Madsen. One of Orton’s goals is make Pier 70 fit in well with the surrounding neighborhood.

According to Jack Sylvan, vice president of development for Forest City, his company has similarly put an emphasis on designing Pier 70 to “feel like a local waterfront…We can’t replicate Dogpatch. We can bring the culture of Dogpatch, those artistic and industrial elements, and integrate that into historic buildings and new buildings to create a unique experience.” Sylvan said one of Forest City’s primary goals is to make the pier’s “ground floor” a place where a pedestrian will feel at home. “The cruise ships, when they’re out there…are literally like a skyscraper on their side,” said Sylvan. “We don’t want this to feel like Pier 39. We want it to be a place where people can come sit and have a coffee by the water by the big cranes,” said Sylvan.

Sylvan said Forest City presented its designs to the Potrero Boosters and DNA early, often, and in innovative ways, including a kayak tour. This approach has given residents multiple opportunities to contribute to the planning process.  “The condominiums will be 30 percent affordable housing, and we’re working on a small-scale manufacturing space in partnership with SF Made. We’re thinking about maybe creating a gallery space,” he said.

Over the next year Forest City will work on the pier’s environmental impact. The Port Commission, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors ultimately must approve final plans.   Until construction, which will take place in phases, begins Forest City will work with event coordinator Pier 70 Partners to open part of the property to the public. 

To date events have primarily been held in and around historic Building 12, a huge, high space with glass windows, where TransBay Tubes were constructed for Bay Area Rapid Transit.  Upcoming events include Ghost Ship Halloween, which will take place for the second time this October; and TechCrunch Disrupt, scheduled for late this month. Sylvan said he’s also interested in hosting a weekly farmer’s market, “not one the size at the Ferry Building.” The activities have helped Forest City understand how to work with crowds, safety issues, trash, and transportation management. 

According to J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, Forest City has taken Hill and Dogpatch residents’ concerns to heart.  “They have worked hard to gain a little bit of trust in the community. One of the reasons people are so supportive of Pier 70 is because Forest City has embraced the idea of infrastructure full on. It is very interested in trying to work out transportation challenges…with other developments up and down the area,” he said.

DNA member Bruce Huie has given Forest City feedback regarding its development plans. “Anything that replaces what we currently have is beneficial. Right now, no one from the community can gain access. We’re all asking, “Could we just get to the Bay?”” he said. According to Huie, residents want to increase the amount of green space in the neighborhood, and “keep the feel and vibe” of Dogpatch.

Susan Eslick, an artist who rents space at the Noonan Building at Pier 70, and a longtime DNA member, said she’s been involved in “pretty much every single meeting” the association has had with Forest City. “I think they’ve done an amazing job with community outreach,” she said. “They’re very available, very creative, and I think they’ve been sensitive and respectful” to Dogpatch residents.  Eslick said the neighborhood “needs as many open spaces as possible” and wants all of Pier 70’s historic buildings rehabilitated.

According to Ken Rich, director of development at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the City understands that voters’ 2014 approval of Proposition F was a “blessing of the vision” of Pier 70.  Under Proposition F, also known as the Union Iron Works Historic District Housing, Waterfront Parks, Jobs and Preservation Initiative, height limits on Pier 70 were increased from 40 to 90 feet. Rich said the City must still determine whether the plan is good for San Francisco.  “What we’re looking for is to try to keep some kind of a balance between (Pier 70 and Dogpatch), not have it change utterly,” he said.

Rich said the City expects to see “a little bit more of a trickle, with traffic more spread out, and people coming on the weekends” to Pier 70 as it opens up. “That’s less of a worry than (a flood) of people coming at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. at their offices. If we do it right, I don’t see it as a huge invasion every Saturday. It should be more mellow than that,” he said.

Peter Albert, urban planning initiatives manager for San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, said the City is “not sleeping on” plans to manage traffic increases as Pier 70 opens up.  “We’re getting out in front of this, working with the neighborhood and the developers,” he said. He said the City will request that CalTrain run more frequently, with possible extra service at the 22nd Street station. “If CalTrain were like BART, that would change the way people think about Pier 70,” said Albert.

Albert said that CalTrain will also be running cleaner soon; the commuter rail is expected to shift its power source from diesel to electricity by 2020 as part of the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project of the CalTrain Modernization program.

Albert said Muni’s 22-Fillmore route will be replaced with the 33-Stanyan route where it runs into Potrero Hill. The City will also encourage the development of safer bike paths in Dogpatch close to Pier 70. It’ll work with Forest City and Orton to close gaps in and near the pier on the Blue Greenway, the Southside’s continuous bicycle and pedestrian path. Many parties, including Golden Gate Ferry, DNA, and the Water Emergency Transit Authority, have shown interest in having a new ferry building open close to Pier 70.

The Central Subway Project should further alleviate traffic congestion. This 1.7-mile rail line, expected to open in 2019, will link Bayshore and Mission Bay to South-of-Market, Downtown, and Chinatown.

Hill residents want to use Pier 70’s publically accessible areas to showcase local labor history. The Hill supplied a good percentage of the workforce for companies at the shipyard: Union Iron Works, Bethlehem Shipbuilding, and Pacific Rolling Mills.  Three generations of some Hill families worked in the shipyard. 

Pier 70 has been in continuous operation since the Gold Rush. It’s seen the building and repair of ships used in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War. It was also the construction site for large metal pieces for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Bill Perez, president and chief executive officer of the Bethlehem Shipyard Museum (BSM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the City’s maritime past, said BSM is in talks with Orton, Forest City, and others about exhibits containing Hill laborers’ stories about Pier 70.  “We are in full partnership with the Museum of the City of San Francisco, a virtual online museum which has a curriculum used by schools throughout the City. We especially value working with Richard and Gladys Hansen,” said Perez. Gladys Hansen is Official Archivist Emeritus of San Francisco.

Perez said that there’s particular value in honoring laborers who contributed to the victory of World War II.  “The people who worked and sailed on those ships built a lot of destroyers and refurbished a lot of ships used by the Allies. Different (shipyards) were assigned to different things. Richmond built a lot of Liberty Ships. Marinship built cargo ships. Bethlehem Steel built destroyers. Napa and Stockton built wooden ships. It was an effort by the entire community,” said Perez.

According to Peter Linenthal, director of the Potrero Hill Archives Project (PHAP), “A lot of longtime residents of Potrero Hill remember men walking down the hills heading east to work at the shipyards. Some older residents remember bringing lunch to their dads.” Linenthal said PHAP, which started out as an oral history project, has hundreds of family photographs that show people working at the shipyards.  “I hope that at a display at Pier 70 we could use both of those things, maybe video interviews on flat screens of people who remember the shipyards and the pictures,” said Linenthal.

Steve Herraiz, who has lived between 18th and 19th streets since the 1990s, leads tours of Dogpatch and Potrero Point for San Francisco City Guides. Herraiz has spent more than 300 hours researching Irish Hill over the past two years. He said the remaining portion of Irish Hill, a small rise at the intersection of Illinois and 22nd streets, should be preserved. The hillock sits on property that’s partly owned by the Port and partly by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).  “I think they should have “then and now” photographs of Irish Hill. The hill is gone. It’s so hard to visualize the neighborhood that was there,” said Herraiz.  Originally from Canton, Ohio, Herraiz’s father, like many older Hill residents, is a union steelworker. 

Herraiz became interested in Irish Hill because he frequently runs by it. In the late-19th century, before a devastating fire in 1887, Irish Hill encompassed six city blocks and had to be accessed by a 90-foot staircase. Most Irish Hill businesses were saloon/hotels, with drinking establishments on the bottom and boarding houses on the top.  Irish Hill attracted Irish, German, Russian, English, and Scottish immigrants, who became shipyard workers. In the early-1900s, Union Iron Works began buying properties around Irish Hill and tearing them down. Toward the end of 1918, PG&E flattened Irish Hill and used dirt from it to fill in the Bay, which created the flat land on which BAE and Forest City’s property now sits.

“I’d like to see historical kiosks, displays with big blown-up photographs. I think it would be cool to put in a timeline, with pictures or actual archaeological artifacts, illustrations, census reports, newspaper articles, and advertisements,” said Herraiz. “It used to be that if people in Irish Hill were doing really well, they’d move to Dogpatch. If they were doing better, they’d move up to Potrero Hill,” he said.

Linenthal said many Hill and Dogpatch residents are recent transplants to the neighborhood. They don’t know that Pier 70 and the communities in which they live are closely related. Linenthal wants that to change.  “I hope we can make that connection clear because it’s so important,” he said.