Sightlines could sink mega-ships deal 

San Francisco will be provided a new cruise-ship terminal under a proposed development deal that would also allow offices to be built on The City’s waterfront, but Port of San Francisco officials have concerns about the desire of the developer to restrict the use of the much-needed cruise terminal.

With tourism as The City’s largest industry, officials have been working to increasecruise-ship traffic, which has tripled in the last decade. The cruise industry supports $31.2 million annually in economic activity and 300 jobs in San Francisco, according to a Bay Area Economics June report. In 2004 and 2005, cruise-ship calls peaked at 84; in 2008, 60 cruise ships are expected to berth in San Francisco, according to data on the Port’s Web site.

Since March 2006, the Port has been in negotiations with Shorenstein Properties LLC to create a development project at Piers 27-31, located north of The Embarcadero. Initial proposals did not include a cruise-ship terminal, but after plans to build a cruise terminal and commercial center at Piers 30 and 32 fizzled, talks between Shorenstein and the Port shifted to include a facility for luxury passenger ships.

Earlier this month, Shorenstein unveiled a proposal before the Port Commission for a four-story office building and cruise-ship terminal. At the meeting, Port commissioners expressed reservations about restrictions on cruise-ship berthings the developer requested.

Shorenstein has asked the Port whether ships can be moved down the length of Pier 27. This would position them so they are parked as close to The Embarcadero as possible to prevent large passenger ships from blocking the views of the offices at the end of Pier 29, Jennifer Sobol, the planning and project manager for the Port, told The Examiner on Tuesday. The matter is still under negotiation, she added.

There are concerns that the impact associated with continual berthings of large ships — which will bring thousands of people to the pier — may not be compatible with the office-space development.

Tom Hart, executive vice president at Shorenstein, said the company is interested in knowing "what’s a reasonable expectation about cruise-ship visits," because during the weekdays the office space is in use.

"If there was going to be a berthing of a Queen Mary-type ship every day of the year, we’d be concerned about the compatability of the two uses," Hart said.

Restricting the number of days that the Port could use the entire length of the pier raises a number of feasibility concerns, but also could prevent The City from courting larger cruise ships, which bring more passengers per call and thus generate more revenue.

"There would be two reasons why we’d do this project. First and foremost to get a cruise-ship terminal, not a junior cruise-ship terminal," said Monique Moyer, the Port’s executive director, adding that the second reason was to generate needed revenue to preserve the aging piers. "Just as they’re doing the project to get great office space, all of our needs have to be met."

Neighbors: ‘No way’ to proposal

In an effort to appease neighborhood advocates who say that any building that violates a local height limit is dead in the water, developer Shorenstein Properties LLC has drafted a shorter alternative for the project.

Zoning dictates that developments in the Northeast Waterfront Historic District is limited to three stories or 40 feet tall. Earlier this month, Shorenstein unveiled a plan for a four-story, 48-foot high office building and a cruise-ship terminal on Piers 27-31.

"There’s no way the neighborhood could sign on to this," said Vedica Puri, president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, a group that has fiercely guarded the height limit.

The alternate plan, which will be presented at the Port Commission’s next meeting, reduces the building to three stories, but expands the amount of space the offices would take up on the property and reduces the open space proposed, said Tom Hart, executive vice president at Shorenstein.

"We’re pleased to hear that there’s been a shift in the project, but you know the devil’s in the details," Puri said.

The project also faces opposition from local environmental groups Save The Bay and San Francisco Tomorrow. On Friday, they sent a joint letter to the Port Commission charging that revising the development project at Piers 27-31 to include a cruise-ship terminal was akin to a "bait and switch" because promised public benefits to the area, including a two-acre Northeast Wharf Plaza, have been dropped from the project.

Cruisin’

A look at San Francisco’s cruise-ship industry

$31.2 million annual economic activity in San Francisco related to cruise ships

$900,000 estimated direct tax revenues that accrue to The City’s General Fund from cruise-ship business

300 jobs created in San Francisco by the cruise-ship business

27 cruise-ship calls to San Francisco in 1998

84 cruise-ship calls in 2005

211,646 passengers on cruise ships that came to San Francisco in 2005

- Source: Port of San Francisco, Bay Area Economics

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Bonnie Eslinger

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