Finding a way to save San Francisco’s piers 

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.

Cruise ships receiving new loading zone

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

Future plans for old piers

Not all the piers on the waterfront have upgrades planned, leaving the future uncertain for many.

Pier 35

  • Montgomery and Bay streets
  • Current cruise terminal
  • Terminal to remain as backup after replacement is built nearby to help accommodate multiple cruise ship visits, which are expected during peak spring and fall seasons
  • Minor building repairs and improvements planned using revenue bond proceeds

Pier 33

  • Montgomery and Bay streets
  • Industrial shed recently reroofed
  • No changes planned for warehouse-dominated pier

Pier 31

  • Francisco and Bay streets
  • Shed on this unsafe building leaks and cannot be occupied
  • Future uncertain

Pier 29

  • Sansome and Chestnut streets
  • Historic sheds occupy pier
  • Used for warehousing and bus parking
  • No major changes planned

Pier 27

  • Battery and Greenwich streets
  • Space leased to vehicle-rental company
  • Future site of new cruise terminal

Piers 19 and 23

  • Front and Filbert streets
  • Warehouses currently occupy piers
  • Considered opportunity site between Exploratorium and new cruise terminal
  • Port preparing to spend $2 million assessing structural condition and potential uses

Piers 15 and 17

  • Davis and Green streets
  • Storage for old buses
  • Exploratorium plans to relocate to Pier 15 from Palace of Fine Arts within two years
  • The museum will commission major structural improvements at both piers

Pier 9

  • Davis and Vallejo streets
  • Office space on pier in reasonably good condition
  • No expansion or changes planned
  • Tenants include San Francisco Bar Pilots

Pier 7

  • At Broadway
  • Public open space created with federal funds after 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake
  • Structurally sound and recently remodeled
  • No changes planned

Piers 1 to 5

  • At Washington Street
  • $50 million redevelopment of piers began in 2001
  • Piers now filled with successful high-end restaurants
  • Office space occupied but some vacancies remain

Ferry Building

  • At Market Street
  • Building was rehabilitated and redeveloped from 2001-03
  • Ferry berths increasing to accommodate new services

Pier 14

  • Between Howard and Mission streets
  • Modern pier serves as public open space
  • Acts as breakwater to protect ferry terminals from waves
  • No changes planned
  • Piers 26 and 28
  • Between Bryant and Harrison streets
  • Support storage sheds, restaurant and office space
  • No changes planned

Piers 30 and 32

  • Between Brennan and Bryant streets
  • Piers were joined by concrete slab in 1950s
  • Badly deteriorating site used as parking lot
  • Ruled unsafe for heavy vehicles
  • Retrofit believed to be too expensive
  • Future uncertain

Pier 36

  • Planned to be demolished and replaced with different-shaped pier
  • 57,000-square-foot park to be built over water parallel to The Embarcadero
  • New pier could open in 2012

Pier 38

  • Used for boat storage
  • Future use unclear
  • Port in legal dispute with lease holder

Source: Port of San Francisco

On the waterfront

$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

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