The City’s skyline is set to change drastically 

As The City ponders allowing taller buildings in the South of Market area to generate cash for the new Transbay Terminal rebuild, developers are quickly coming up with proposals for taller high-rises.

The $3.4 billion plan to transform the blighted Transbay Terminal into a major transportation hub, akin to New York City’s Grand Central Station, is driving city planners to consider allowing higher height limits for buildings. The new terminal would put all bus services under one roof and include a Caltrains extension. It would also include the high-speed rail. However, the project was threatened when key state funding for a high-speed rail connecting The City with Los Angeles never materialized. City planners then came up with a new idea to offset some of the project’s cost: taller buildings.

Early estimates show that $250 million could be generated for the terminal project by allowing buildings to rise hundreds of feet higher by having developers pay extra fees to exceed existing height limits.

The Planning Department will launch a study next month to come up with new zoning requirements for the area around the terminal at First and Mission streets that will lead to dramatic change in the South of Market area.

As property owners learned of the Planning Department’s idea of increased heights at least nine different development proposals of taller buildings have surfaced, some of which will more than surpass The City’s tallest building — the Transamerica Pyramid at 853 feet.

Some of the tallest building proposals include a 1,200-foot-tall tower at 50 First St., which famed architect Renzo Piano is in line to design, a building of 850 feet proposed for 350 Mission St., and a building as high as 800 feet discussed for 177-187 Fremont St. Another application has come in for constructing a 675-foot building at 2 New Montgomery St. An international competition is also under way to design the new Transbay Terminal and an adjacent tower on city land as high as 1,200 feet that could become one of the tallest buildings on the West Coast.

"We all understand that this is a very important project for The City," Dean Macris, head city planner, said. "There is a lot of analysis that is going to be done here."

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of tall buildings. Showing a picture of San Francisco’s skyline in 1958, resident Stewart Bloom said, "This is the San Francisco that people read about and remember and Sam Spade and Herb Caen enjoyed. Don’t lose that romance of The City for expediency and for what’s popular at the moment."

jsabatini@examiner.com

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