Aging piers that once supported a booming cargo industry are being overhauled to support San Francisco’s visitor-based economy — but some will remainrundown.
Since the 1960s, when The City’s once-frantic cargo trade drifted east to Oakland, San Francisco’s cash-strapped Port has failed to produce substantial revenues from its waterfront assets. This has led to an inability to improve the infrastructure of the piers, most of which were built in the early 20th century.
Although it doesn’t generate significant taxes or lease payments, the waterfront is still valuable for The City, whose biggest source of income and jobs has become its tourism and convention sector.
In recent years, the Port has managed to overhaul nine piers, largely by relying on partnerships with the private sector, which created striking benefits over the past decade for The City’s economy and livability.
AT&T Park rejuvenated the South Beach neighborhood after it opened in 2000 and helped weave Major League Baseball, which used to be played at the remote Candlestick Park, into San Francisco’s urban culture.
“The dilapidated old piers, they were no longer being used except for storage,” San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jim Lazarus said. “Now you have a ballpark where thousands of people are employed on game days and is part of a revitalization that has impacted that neighborhood every day of the week.”
The Ferry Building was redeveloped after the earthquake-damaged Embarcadero freeway was toppled in the early 1990s. It has become the site of a popular farmers market and home to scores of specialty grocery stores.
Just north of the Ferry Building, office tenants and three popular restaurants now occupy the elegantly redeveloped piers 1 to 5.
More waterfront improvements are planned, using revenue bond sales and other financing sources, which could create a trail of enticing destinations between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building.
The most substantial planned improvements include the conversion of limousine storage sheds into a world-class cruise terminal and the relocation of the Exploratorium science museum from the Marina district to the waterfront.
Not all of the benefits of the improvements will flow to tourists or tourist operators, according to Rodney Fong, chairman of the San Francisco Visitors and Convention Bureau and of the Port of San Francisco Commission.
Many of the finished and planned projects include public open space used by nearby residents and workers taking lunch breaks.
“The parks are going to be bookends for those areas to stimulate more foot traffic,” Fong said.
But despite major spending plans, pockets of long-neglected waterfront blight will remain. The tire of a heavily loaded truck pierced a weak concrete apron that connects piers 30 and 32 at Beale Street with The Embarcadero, forcing the Port to close the expansive parking lot for heavy vehicles and an annual fireworks display.
No funds are available to rejuvenate the concrete swath or to improve Pier 31 at Francisco Street, which contains a deserted and structurally unsafe building.
Significant upgrades are planned for how passengers disembark from cruise ships at the new terminal planned for Pier 27.
Currently, customers walk down a tilted gangplank from ships docking at the underwhelming Pier 35 terminal. But the docked ships run diesel generators to power lights, air conditioners and other onboard devices used by customers and crew, spewing pollution over passengers and the waterfront.
But plans for a new terminal nearby at Pier 27, the current site of a limousine company’s headquarters, include an elevated arrival and departure point.
The new terminal will connect cruise ships to land with an elevated, self-adjusting horizontal gangplank.
Computer sensors will help raise and lower the enclosed walkway as tides ebb.
The docked ships will connect to The City’s electrical grid through a large cord, which will allow masters to switch off diesel-powered generators.
The Port calculated that the shoreside power supply will reduce waterfront air pollution emissions by 140 pounds of diesel soot and 1.3 tons of nitrogen oxides for every nine-hour call by the Dawn Princess.
— John Upton
Not all the piers on the waterfront have upgrades planned, leaving the future uncertain for many.
Piers 19 and 23
Piers 15 and 17
Piers 1 to 5
Piers 30 and 32
Source: Port of San Francisco
$2 billion Cost to repair all of Port’s waterfront assets
$650 million Funds available for improvements during next decade
$60 million Maximum expected price to build new cruise terminal
$39.3 million Funds available for new cruise terminal
$25 million Estimated cost of planned Brannan Street wharf
$24.5 million Funds potentially available for Brannan Street wharf
$175 million Exploratorium’s cost to relocate to waterfront
$45.6 million Funds available to overhaul piers 19 and 23 with project yet to be determined
Source: Port of San Francisco