Planning Continues for Redevelopment of Potrero Power Plant Site

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Brandon Hing, student at Lick-Wilmerding High School. Photo: Courtesy of Associate Capital
Brandon Hing, student at Lick-Wilmerding High School. Photo: Courtesy of Associate Capital

Plans for the site that used to host the Potrero Power Plant continue to be fleshed-out, with the owners, Associate Capital, soliciting suggestions on how to best develop the parcel. Last spring, Associate Capital principals helped judge the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco’s 49th Annual High School Design Competition, which featured the plant location as the contest’s design challenge.

In 2016, Associate Capital acquired the 21-acre site, which was divided into seven remediation areas as part of an effort to remove manufactured gas plant residues, including heavy metals, left behind from decades of industrial use. Former plant owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), has cleaned-up three of the zones: the utility-owned Hoe Down and Switchyard/General Construction yards; and Station A, possessed by Associate Capital. 

PG&E uses the Hoe Down Yard for construction staging and equipment storage.  The investor-owned utility is exploring with the Port of San Francisco relocating these activities to an alternate site. Such a move would allow the Yard to be incorporated into Pier 70 commercial/residential redevelopment. Work continues in the four remaining contaminated areas: Northeast – including a portion of the Pier 70 property – Offshore Sediment, Tank Farm, and former Power Generation, according to PG&E. It anticipates completing cleanup by early next year.

Associate Capital envisions a mostly residential, though mixed-use, and mixed-income, neighborhood, with up to 2,400 units: 1,800 on the Potrero Power Station site, with the balance potentially sited on the Hoe Down Yard; 600,000 square feet of office space; 600,000 square feet dedicated to research and development activities; 100,000 square feet of retail; and social amenities, such as a community center.

Anchored by a 300-foot stack, the project could feature more than six acres of parks and open space, a boutique hotel adapted from a former steam power facility, as well as restaurants, cafes, and shops.

“It’s much too early to say with certainty how specific elements, such as the mix of housing and or the transportation program, will exactly turn out,” said Associate Capital spokesperson PJ Johnston. “But we’re working with the community every step of the way, and we’ve been thrilled by the level of enthusiasm for the project itself, and for the opportunity, after a century and a half of industrial use, to finally reconnect the community with the waterfront at this phenomenal location.”

There’s community interest in preserving the site’s historical elements, including “Unit 3,” the former steam power facility, which the company hopes to turn into a post-industrial, “recaptured” use, most likely a hotel; and the stack itself. “We have heard over and over from the community: Try to keep the stack, and we intend to,” Johnston said.

According to Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president, Bruce Huie, the association wants to keep the stack because, “It is iconic Dogpatch. We as a neighborhood struggle to keep our history. It is precious, unique, and valuable for future generations. You know you are in Dogpatch when you see that stack.” 

Associate Capital has held more than a half-dozen community workshops at the site, sponsored multiple tours, and given dozens of presentations to stakeholders and community groups.  More than 144 high school students from various Bay Area high schools, including Lowell, Lincoln, Burlingame, Mills, Oakridge, and Valley Christian, submitted creative visions for a conceptual community campus center that could be incorporated into a master plan for the location. Proposals consisted of a physical model, 2D plans, and 3D renderings.

According to Associate Capital, the best individual entries came from Brandon Hing, a student at Lick Wilmerding High School; Rigel Wakil, from Lowell High School; and Helen Sturman, also at Lick Wilmerding. The finest group submission was from Abraham Lincoln High School; the greatest digital entry was submitted by Burlingame High School. The judging panel included architects, developers, and Tina Chang, Associate Capital director.

The frontrunners were chosen based on design sophistication, according to Ryan Lee, an associate at Woods Bagot who spearheaded the competition. Some entries featured active green space on rooftops. Other used slopes and arches. The winning entry conceived of an active rooftop space to take advantage of the site’s views, as well as building façades that were transparent and allowed both visual and physical access to the waterfront.

“One of Associate Capital’s main design objectives for the Power Station’s development is to open up the waterfront to public access,” Johnston said. “Accordingly, we were especially pleased to see the students’ creative ideas for rooftop activity, because it functions to provide public access and view in ways that haven’t been possible for the past 150 years. It has inspired the development team to embody the students’ creative and fun-loving spirit.”

Later this summer, Associate Capital will present its plans to the San Francisco Planning Commission. In the autumn, the power plant site will host Dogpatch Octoberfest, La Cocina Street Food Festival, and Burning Man Decompression.