8 Washington Street Project Area
In November the Port of San Francisco terminated the RFP process to which one development team (Waterfront Partners) had dutifully responded with their vision for San Francisco’s Seawall Lot 351 and initiated a new solicitation due two months later in hopes of attracting another proposal.
Yesterday, a group of hoteliers dropped their “dreams of building a luxury hotel on the northeastern waterfront, leaving city officials with a single development proposal.” See above (or below).
Waning economy sinks hotel proposal [San Francisco Examiner]
Seawall Lot 351: This Time The Port Does The Punking (RFP Wise) [SocketSite]
SWL 351 And The Proposed 8 Washington Street Project: Port Hearing [SocketSite]
The SocketSite Scoop On The 8 Washington Street Project [SocketSite]

42 thoughts on “Cosmic Development Karma For San Francisco’s Seawall Lot 351?”
  1. “leaving city officials with a single development proposal”.
    But don’t worry, the most costly and tallest tower west of the Mississippi, the Transbay Tower, will “still be built”, since there is such a “great need” for expensive commercial office space in San Francisco.
    If one were to make a list of all the projects on hold or cancelled in San Francisco, it would be exhausting and depressing. I still laugh at the San Francisco magazine picture of how the skyline was to look in another 10 or 15 years. The image of San Francisco’s bright and glorious future was a cross between the “Emerald City”, modern day Shanghai and Dubai, with a density of towers that in reality looked more like Chicago.
    I guess we will be stuck with perhaps one of the world’s most boring skylines for at least the next couple of decades.

  2. I guess we will be stuck with perhaps one of the world’s most boring skylines for at least the next couple of decades.
    No way. as many here know (they’ve yelled at me numerous times in the past), I am not a pie in the sky San Francisco uber-believer.
    But SF has a GREAT skyline. It is not impressively tall, nor are barely any of the buildings interesting to look at. However, the skyline is still gorgeous due primarily to 5 things.
    1) the ocean
    2) GG bridge
    3) TransAmerica Building
    4) Fog.
    5) Hills.
    one of my favorite pictures are pics of SF from Marin looking down on the city and the GG bridge on a sunny day with the fog rolling in. beautiful.
    now on the streets in SF? yuck. I’ve highlit 1000x how ugly SF is on the streets. all my opinion of course, and I’ve been blasted 2000x for saying so. but SF is ugly ugly ugly looking at it from the street.
    but not from Marin or from the Bay Bridge or from Alcatraz etc… Gorgeous.
    Someone famous architect (I forget who?) said something VERY paraphrased like:
    SF is a city built on a natural wonder of geography upon which boring buildings are built.
    I couldn’t agree more. But nonetheless SF has a FANTASTIC skyline.

  3. I am talking about the architecture, not the natural landscape. San Francisco, because of various restrictions, has a very boring skyline. Ex SF-er, you choose the most romantic view from Marin, but try driving north into the city on 101 to see the real skyline in all of the flat boring glory. I actually wish we would have a Transbay Tower or two, but it will not happen.
    Part of San Francisco’s problem is that it has such a spectacular natural setting, it seems to have given up trying to create great architecture as well.
    Frank Lloyd Wright said without the hills and bay, San Francisco would have a boring cityscape no different than a medium sized Midwestern city.

  4. Part of San Francisco’s problem is that it has such a spectacular natural setting, it seems to have given up trying to create great architecture as well.
    I agree. I remember reading in a polemicist book (An Empire Wilderness) mostly about sprawl that this was a problem for all of the West. Something about how people understood instinctively that it was impossible to compete with the natural landscapes throughout so much of the West and that people gave up trying. If anyone’s got that book around and can find the quote I’d love to see it again.

  5. It’s really unfortunate for the hoteliers they can’t fund the project. It’s an ideal location for a hotel, and the economy will eventually turn around.

  6. >>now on the streets in SF? yuck. I’ve highlit 1000x how ugly SF is on the streets. all my opinion of course, and I’ve been blasted 2000x for saying so.
    @ ex-SFer, have you been blasted 2000x for using “highlit” as the past tense form of “highlight”? 😉
    and while i’m quibbling, for some cities, sadly, the natural beauty vs. architectural aesthetics distinction almost seems to be a zero-sum game. chicago without the buildings is, um, evanston? gary? i don’t know and i don’t want to know. on the other hand, does anyone care about rio’s or sydney’s skyline because of the architecture? no way. you have to work with your strengths, i think. in as much as SF is about its natural beauty, i will always be in support of planners focusing on development that works with it. just thinking of chrissy field, here for example (talking my book – hah!). although it contributes little to the skyline as classically defined, chrissy’s redevelopment has been an enormous success as being part of san francisco’s allure.
    and as for the 101 approach, jeez, you couldn’t have picked a more interesting and poignant example, anonandon. coming back from SFO after i’ve been away is just plain depressing because of that route. especially coming back from sydney. boo hoo.

  7. SF does not have an ugly skyline! Frank Lloyd Wright is so wrong in his Midwest Skyline bit, look at the skylines of Cleveland, Detroit, Columbus, St. Louis and Indianapolis. While your at it look at Baltimore, DC, Tampa, Jacksonville, San Antonio, San Diego, and Phoenix.

  8. IMHO SF’s skyline is just plain dated. Even with our new batch of towers, some of which look like they could have been built in the late 80’s, the skyline looks frozen in time. We desperately need the Pelli tower and for Rincon Hill and Transbay to fill in with some interesting and modern architecture. I would love to see the Octavia/Mid-Market plan begin to sprout some cranes as well. Unfortunately, it looks as if none of this will happen anytime in the near future.

  9. Plan C sparky, I would prefer San Francisco to compete with NYC, L.A., Chicago, Hong Kong, Syndey, and Paris. Why would a “world class: city like San Francisco want to compare itself to Cleveland or San Antonio?
    When did this city stop wanting to be “Paris-on-the-Pacific” and instead thinking, “oh well, it is better than Pheonix”.

  10. I wouldn’t despair seeing those cranes on Octavia/Mid-Market sometime soon. There’s pent-up demand for housing in San Francisco; construction materials are half their price from a year ago; and low interest rates make units affordable…

  11. I agree plan C-sparky but I hold much higher expectations for San Francisco than I do say…Columbus or Phoenix.

  12. So do I, don’t get me wrong. I used the mid-west comarison because it was quoted earlier in the thread. But if you look at photos of them, SF blows away the skylines I pointed to. So, it’s not just that it is a little better. Also, I think it compares fine with LA. I don’t think it could or should compete with NY, Chicago, or Sydney based on population (pop. is another reason I picked the other cities that I did).

  13. ROFL Sparky!
    i will henceforth always compare SF to Cleveland! I also heard that SF eeked past Eureka too…
    I randomly googled “best skylines” and came up with this list:
    (for the most part I agree with many of the choosings on that list including SF being on that list. However, I think Vancouver should be on it too and I think more asian cities should be on that list.).
    Top 15 Skylines In The World
    1 Hong Kong, China
    2 Chicago, USA
    3 New York, USA
    4 Shanghai, China
    5 Singapore, Singapore
    6 Tokyo, Japan
    7 Toronto, Canada
    8 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    9 Shenzhen, China
    10 Seattle, USA
    11 Dubai, Emirates or Arab
    12 Seoul, South Korea
    13 Sydney, Australia
    14 San Francisco, USA
    15 Frankfurt, Germany
    I also looked at other sites, and SF was consistently in the top 40 of best skylines

  14. ex-SFer,
    I didn’t make the comparison. I tried to dispute it. Frank Lloyd Wright made it and ananandon quoted it in this thread. Plus LMRiM brought up a book about the west not trying to complete with nature and I guess I am saying SF competes with nature better than a lot of Eastern and Mid-western cities (where there shouldn’t be much of a contest).

  15. I personally think Shanghai has many garish buildings. Dubai sort of the same but I liked the setting and uniqueness more. Tokyo is pretty decentralized but has a cool 360 degree skyline from above in many spots. Shenzen; I can’t even recall the skyline which tells you how much I appreciated it.
    Hong Kong, Chicago, New York, to me are the most iconic of those I have seen

  16. SF’s “skyline” is fine (whether natural, big buildings, viewed from Marin, or whatever).
    Now, about those streetscapes in aboout 80% of the city? Practically the whole southern half (yes, including NV), except for some nice “suburban” layouts like Westwood Park, St Francis, Ingleside Terraces, etc., much of the Richmond (almost the whole of the city west of 19th for that matter, too), the crappy eastern nabes (Bayview, Exelsior, Potrero, etc.) – UGLY, UGLY, UGLY! Significantly uglier from the street level even than the NYC boros, and that’s saying a lot 🙂

  17. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The Port should have taken the hotel proposal while they had it (not that there was any guarantee that it would have gotten built.) Instead, they threw the fish back and tried to catch something bigger, and instead go home empty-handed.

  18. Back to the topic
    As I recall in my head this site is south of the “no high rise” line of Broadway. Its really a shame that they aren’t able to build a few residential midrises as were build near by in the 1960’s. As you head north on the Embarcadero there are some really ridiculously short squat buildings.
    There is an example of a 60’s style mid rise off I-80 with a new 5 story “in-fill” box next to it. Why pretend the older buildings isn’t there? Aesthetically it just makes things worse.

  19. You would think that the hoteliers and their investors (it’s a specialty set of investors who do these things) would have a 3-5 year horizon and not cancel the project at what is really just the start of a downturn. Those guys go boom to bust, on just a few percentage points in occupancy.
    Not that they know any more than anyone else, but they must be thinking the downturn is going to last much longer than 3-5 years. Or it could be that they see the economy shifting to lower price locales and less travel overall.
    We all believe that tech will save us, but tech is allowing companies to move to lower price areas. APL is leaving the area entirely. Not a shock when you think that everything they need to do can be done remotely these days. Perhaps the hoteliers are worrying about a more fundamental shift than what you find in the usual economic cycles.

  20. tipster – i would assume it’s because they can’t get financing, not some complicated scheme about hotels becoming in less demand in years ahead.

  21. ^^^ anon:
    The article says their overseas partners (I am assuming equity) backed out due to other loses. I would assume they haven’t been able to replace those partners.
    As for financing, lenders will look at demand assumptions for the project as well before lending, often with a more pessimistic eye. But I am sure you know that and didn’t mean to imply that the demand for a project and financing (and therefore the risk of default) were not related.

  22. Um, people still have money and they are still willing to invest it in areas that will do well.
    Hotel development is a very specialized area. Those guys do that for a living. But it’s sort of an unusual arrangement: the investors have the building built (and sometimes they build it themselves) and then they lease it to an operator, with whose brand you are more familiar. It’s like building an office building: the name on the door is usually not the entity who owns it.
    If the operators are all going to be hurting for the next few years, you as an investor/developer don’t build any new hotel buildings. If the operators are going to be doing well, you do.
    There isn’t a shortage of capital right now at all. All those treasuries are being bought with something, so capital is still around . The shortage is of businesses in which you can invest and earn a sufficient return to compensate you for your risk.
    The risk is higher across the board because people don’t know whether this is a temporary situation or something more long term. Because the risks are higher now, the return required is not possible to attain in a downturn.
    If those hotel investors thought hotels in SF were a safe bet, they’d be putting money onto building more of them. Even if the investors didn’t think they were a safe bet, if the operators were willing to pay them a much higher price to compensate them for the risk, the investors would build it even if the investors themselves thought it wouldn’t work. But neither group is willing to make either one of those bets, so the money will sit in treasuries and the plans won’t be built.
    Whether those two groups are unwilling to do the above because of general business conditions or because of SF in particular is unknown. But money is out there for the right risk and return. It’s ALWAYS out there. If Paris Hilton’s dad promises me 1000% return, *I’ll* invest.

  23. Please, whatever ends up here, let’s hope it is tall, and actually takes advantage of the waterfront location. San Francisco has a strange collection of buildings that for the most part, turn their backs to the water.

  24. ” tech is allowing companies to move to lower price areas. APL is leaving the area entirely.”
    I guess so, right? How else can you explain a marine shipping container company moving to Arizona?

  25. If those hotel investors thought hotels in SF were a safe bet, they’d be putting money onto building more of them. Even if the investors didn’t think they were a safe bet, if the operators were willing to pay them a much higher price to compensate them for the risk, the investors would build it even if the investors themselves thought it wouldn’t work. But neither group is willing to make either one of those bets, so the money will sit in treasuries and the plans won’t be built.
    And perhaps the hoteliers think that it’s a great idea, but not quite good enough for financing at the terms being offered. Investors think it’s a project that will pay them back, but are still a little shell-shocked from the past four months and are asking for outrageous terms. Nah.

  26. tech is allowing companies to move to lower price areas
    Evidence? The opposite seems to be happening. Palo Alto and South Park are important examples of this. Tech thrives in a small number of specific locations, several of which are in San Francisco or close by. Companies move away when their products become ordinary commodities so that the next wave of new things can be designed here.

  27. In the middle of the country, Houston has the most modern and impressive skyline. But of course it’s just the opposite of San Francisco when it comes to natural beauty.

  28. Dear Readers,
    Your opinions as to the future skyline of our city are insightful.
    As to the specific site, Sea Wall Lot 351, presently under the control of the Port of San Francisco, the use of that site is highly contentious.
    This site was zoned with an 84 foot height limit in the late 1940’s, so that Caltrans could build the double deck, Embarcadero Freeway to connect the Bay Bridge to Clay, Washington and Broadway streets.
    Even though the freeway was very popular in the 1950’s all the way to until the 1989 earthquake, it was very controversial. In fact the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, fought successfully to end the freeway at Broadway and not have it continue to the Golden Gate Bridge, as Caltrans had planned for.
    Until 1962, when the State Legislature, in the Burton Act, gave the Port and the adjacent parking lots, to the City of San Francisco, the various “Sea Wall Lots” were supportive to the maritime activity of the Port.
    As the decades have gone by, the Port has used the majority of the Sea Wall lots as public parking.
    If fact today, Sea Wall Lot 351 is the main parking facility for the Ferry Building, its offices and retail shops and restaurants.
    The fact that the 84 foot high zoning is in place on SWL 351 and most of the other SWL lots controlled by the Port, has nothing to do with any City of San Francisco Planning or Zoning, either by the City or the Re-Development Agency.
    It’s strictly a holdover from the construction to the Embarcadero Freeway.
    SWL 351 is located next to the Golden Gateway Swim & Tennis Club, which was approved by the Redevelopment Agency in the 1960’s.
    It was built for the neighborhood as part of the open space component to the neighborhood, which includes One Maritime Plaza (The Alcoa Building), the Golden Gateway Center (1,284 rental apartments), Golden Gateway Commons (155 condominiums and 300,000 sq ft of office and retail) and Sydney Walton Park (a private park for the enjoyment of all San Franciscans).
    Since Diane Feinstein was Mayor in the 1970’s, then in the 1980’s when Art Agnos was Mayor and continuing until today, there have been 4 attempts to change the Swim & Tennis Club and turn it into condominiums.
    All the proposed developers have assumed that the 84 foot height limit, again placed on the site by Caltrans, would allow them to change what the Re-Development Commission had agreed to when the Swim & Tennis Club was initially approved and built.
    The neighborhood, now over 3,000 interested San Franciscans, supported by FOGG (Friends of Golden Gateway, the BCNA (Barbary Coast Neighborhood Association), the THD (Telegraph Hill Dwellers) and two former mayors, and two Boards of Supervisors have protested and stopped the proposed change from the only recreation and open space in this high density neighborhood.
    There are many locations in San Francisco where buildings can and will be built, maybe up to and over 1,000 feet, but this is not the site for rebuilding the freeway, with an 84 foot tall building, when the freeway was was only 55 feet tall.
    I invite all of the readers that have made comments on this issue on Socketsite, to at least attend one meeting held by the Port or the Northeast Waterfront committee of the Port, to educate yourself on this issue. Come and speak you viewpoint. Meet the neighbors and listen to their opinions.
    The next meeting on the issue is this coming Tuesday, January 13th at 3:00 PM at the Port’s Meeting room at the Ferry Building.
    You will get an update as to why one of the most recent applicants has withdrawn his proposal.
    For some additional background visit:

  29. A private tennis club should not be considered “open space”. Neither should a parking a lot. This site is a private tennis club and a parking lot. Where is the open space, Frederick?

  30. It depends on whether by open you mean “not enclosed” or “not built”. In this context, I think the second definition applies.

  31. As to the presnt zoning of SWL 351, it is zoned “P” for public. It is not zoned for private residential use. Recreation and or parking is allowed. It is also under the control the the California State Lands Use Commission and zoning, which also does not allow private residential use.

  32. Anything is an improvement over a parking lot. Who should I contact to tell them that I support this development? My supervisor?

  33. Personally I prefer low rise buildings along the water front and tall buildings clustered behind.. I think the planning dept. is doing a great job with the Embarcadero.

  34. Frederick = NIMBY
    I could not have said it more perfectly. A PRIVATE tennis and swim club does not equal open space or anything for the community. It is what it is: a PRIVATE business. If the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim club was a local community pool, such as the Sava pool or another SF Parks and Rec pool, than you could consider it a “community pool.” Heck, if it was a non-profit YMCA, you could even stretch and call it a community pool/recreation center. A membership at GGTS costs around $100/month the last time that I checked. I have no idea what the current cost is, but it is definitely not affordable to the average SF resident, except maybe for the average resident of telegraph hill.
    You think the planning and zoning is doing an excellent job along the embarcadero??? You have got to be kidding me, and you have to travel around the country and world more. SF has a world-class bay view with world-class natural geography, which makes views up and down the embarcadero quite remarkable, from the GGB to Angel Island to Treasure Island and to the Bay Bridge. However, the development along the embarcadero is less than remarkable, except for the Ferry Market Bldg (private investor) and AT&T Park. The majority of the park are warehouses on top of piers, and these warehouses are used primarily as parking lots for limos, buses, and private cars. Talk about a waste of space!
    You should take a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, for example. It is not a city like SF, but has a beautiful bay, a beautiful bay bridge, and world-class sailing. Along Newport’s waterfront, you have historic piers with sailboats and yachets tied to the piers, great seafood restaurants and great cuisine overall, retail shops, and hotels right on top of the piers with absolutely gorgeous unobstructed bay views. SF has the ugliest piers in the world, which completely underutilize the beauty of the embarcadero.
    The longer that I live here, the more that I realize that SF is beautiful b/c of the natural geography. Certainly, it has nothing to do with the planning dept, board of supes, or neighborhood organizations such as the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. THD, what have you done to beautify NB??? Or have you just stopped everything in NB from developing and moving forward? It is always unpleasant working with people, whom always complain, but never offer up any real solutions.

  35. Using Sava costs you $4 for a swim. ($36 for ten tickets.) If a person likes to swim every day, paying the monthly fee at the GGTSC doesn’t seem all that unaffordable. Just because a facility is privately owned doesn’t mean it can’t be of value to the community. BTW, until last year, the club was indeed owned by a non-profit organization, Atlantic Philanthropies, although I’m not sure why the ownership should have an impact on whether it’s considered open space.

  36. The Embarcadero between Harrison and Market is actually quite nice, with some nice masonry low rise buildings that have been very well preserved. I love driving and walking up and down it. If you are talking about the piers, then yes those are mostly worn down, but you can’t really tell from the street level can you? I was not speaking of all of Embarcadero just the parts I am used to (closer to Financial district and SOMA)

  37. But without the pier warehouse structures, we would have a real waterfront where you could see the bay. Since we long ago gave up being THE West Coast port city to L.A.-Long Beach and Seattle, why not admit that these structures are not needed?

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