Permanent departure point for trips to Alcatraz sought 

The departure point for the more than 1 million people visiting Alcatraz every year is searching for a future home, and the location on the San Francisco waterfront that is selected will also house a new history center and vendors.

Cruises to the island have departed from Pier 31½, at the end of Bay Street, since Hornblower Cruises and Events in 2006 snared an exclusive federal contract to ferry the 1.4 million people annually between San Francisco and the famous prison-turned-tourist attraction.

The departure point was previously nearby at Fisherman’s Wharf.

It has taken years for the National Parks Service, which oversees the cruise contract and the island, to update the departure location in countless brochures, guide books, Web sites and electronic databases, spokesman Rich Weideman said.

The service has begun searching for a permanent new departure point in San Francisco that will not change whenever a new cruise operator is appointed, according to Weideman.

A major visitors center is planned at the new departure point, Weideman said.

The 28,000- to 35,000-square-foot center will likely include displays that document the island’s checkered history along with food and drink sales, an indoor waiting area, and a store where books and gifts would be sold.

“The infrastructure investment is going to be pretty significant,” Weideman said.

Sites in The City that are owned by the Port of San Francisco and National Parks Service are being considered.

San Francisco has served as the departure point for Alcatraz tourist vessels since the island became an attraction in 1973.

It’s unlikely that the departure point will move before Hornblower’s contract expires in 2016, Weideman said. Hornblower operates the tours under its subsidiary name Alcatraz Cruises.

Improvements are planned at the current departure point, including new canopies, fencing, gangways, lighting and educational signs, company spokeswoman Tegan Firth said.

Rodney Fong, a Fisherman’s Wharf wax museum operator and chairman of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said island tours provide lucrative benefits for San Francisco’s critical tourism industry. He said the departure point should remain within the tourist-focused northern waterfront area.

“I think the public associates an Alcatraz voyage with departing and returning to Fisherman’s Wharf,” Fong said.

A launching point

New Alcatraz Island tour departure points are being considered.

Pier 19½: Nonhistoric shed and apron space is vacant between the historic buildings at piers 19 and 23, which is at the intersection of Filbert Street and The Embarcadero

Pier 29½: Historic shed and apron space is located between historic buildings at piers 29 and 31, near Fisherman’s Wharf

Pier 31 and 31½: Alcatraz Cruises leases Pier 31½ at the end of Bay Street as an embarkation point for island visitors. The adjacent Pier 31 is vacant, allowing the site to potentially be expanded

Pier 41: A Blue and Gold Fleet ferry services’ lease of nonhistoric building and apron space north of Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf is set to expire in March 2015

Pier 45: Historic shed and apron space is partially leased on a month-to-month basis by a variety of tenants, including the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, at the foot of Taylor Street at Fisherman’s Wharf

Aquatic Park or Fort Mason: Potential sites on national park land include the winding municipal pier at the end of Van Ness Street and the short pier to its west, where prisoners departed for The Rock

Sources: Port of San Francisco, National Park Service

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