Firms compete for terminal design contract 

Amid talks of budgetary shortfalls, four architectural firms will compete for the massive undertaking of designing the Transbay Terminal on Mission Street, often referred to as the "Grand Central of the West."

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board formally named the four contenders Thursday while unexpectedly eliminating one firm from the process. With an August deadline, designers will have to balance innovation and creativity while being sensitive to financial constraints.

"There are important things — design excellence and cost —meaning even if we had a wonderful design but it costs four times the budget, that’s something that we are not going to do," board member Michael Cohen said.

The project’s vast design work requires several pieces to make headway. The plan includes a mixed-use tower that would alter The City’s skyline. A proposed underground rail line would run along the Embarcadero and would require the relocation of several businesses. Also being considered is a Caltrain extension from its Fourth and King station to the Transbay site on Mission and First streets. The board faces a massive funding gap to meet a price tag estimate of $2.4 billion.

Board members began reviewing potential funding sources, knowing that overall expenses could exceed $2 billion.

While the first phase of the new Transbay station is fully funded, last week Controller Ed Harrington described funding plans for the Caltrain extension and an underground line as a "very high-risk project."

The terminal would accommodate different modes of transportation — buses, commuter trains and bullet trains — while connecting San Francisco to a larger network that could reach other regions, such as San Joaquin County.

Board members seemed excited by the group of architects that will vie for the task. The group was described as "extraordinary," with an impressive list of architectural achievements that carry an international presence.

For example, Santiago Calatrava, based in Zurich, created the Athens Olympic Sports Complex; Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects shaped Hong Kong’s skyline; and The City’s St. Regis Hotel was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill & Rockefeller Group Development Corp.

The firm booted from competition, the reputable Foster + Partners and Heller-Manus Architects, was described as uncoordinated and falling short of expectations, said Don Stastny, the competition’s manager. At one point during the process, the firm submitted a report where a large portion of data was chopped off because of an errant printer. After the terminal’s design is selected in September, it will go before the Board of Supervisors, which could happen in late 2008.

Architectural adversaries

The four firms selected to compete to design the Transbay Terminal

» Santiago Calatrava & Boston Properties, Zurich, Switzerland

Notable achievement: The Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden

» Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects & Hines, New Haven, Conn.

Notable achievement: Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.

» Richard Rogers Partnership & Forest City Enterprises, London

Notable achievement: Antwerp Law Courts, Antwerp, Belgium

» Skidmore, Owings & Merrill & Rockefeller Group Development Corp., Chicago

Notable achievement: International Terminal, SFO

bfoley@examiner.com

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