Piers 30-32 Aerial

While the Port of San Francisco is in the process of updating its Waterfront Land Use Plan and examining potential uses for the City’s prominent Piers 30-32, the 13-acre site is likely to remain a deteriorating parking lot with sweeping Bay views for at least another decade, and possibly two or three.

Originally constructed in 1912, extended in 1926, and expanded in 1950, Piers 30-32 were granted to the City of San Francisco by the state, “for purposes of commerce, navigation, and fisheries, and subject to specified terms and conditions relating to the operation of the Port of San Francisco.” And as such, any private redevelopment or re-purposing the piers will be a regulatory challenge, as the Warriors learned the hard way.

At the same time, the poor condition of the piers and a preliminary Federal Emergency Management Agency flood hazard designation for the site would likely require an investment of at least $165 million to simply stabilize the site for redevelopment. Again, as the Warriors learned the hard way.

Removing the existing piers, raising the Seawall and building a floating open space on the site, which could be leased for events and as a deep water dock, would cost over $700 million and yield an expected negative 96 percent return on that investment over the next 30 years. Building a new marina, dock and retail wharf on the site would cost an estimated $466 million and yield an expected return of negative 85 percent. And simply removing the piers would only cost $40 million but would result in the loss of an estimated $21 million in future parking and event revenue.

But with minimal structural repairs every five years, the Port estimates the existing piers and use could last another 20 to 30 years, which would cost an estimated $6 million in Capital Costs but yield a 350 percent return on that investment.

And given the numbers above, unless a “big idea” emerges, “where location matters much more than cost” and which is sponsored by a development partner “who is willing to obtain state legislation authorizing their project and has the patience to navigate a complicated State and City regulatory process,” the Piers 30-32 site could very well look the same in 20 to 30 years as it does today.

Well, it could look somewhat the same in two to three decades. For even with a bit of periodic maintenance, portions of Piers 30-32 will likely start to fail in 5 or 10 years, at which point Port engineers would simply barricade the failed areas. And of course, all bets are off if – or rather when – there’s a moderate to major earthquake.

53 thoughts on “The Likely Fate of San Francisco’s Prominent Piers 30-32”
  1. With infrastructure projects I am beginning to learn that the best rule to follow is almost always: Spend the money now. Spend it now even if you have to borrow it– which in a time of historically low interest rates make spending the money now even more attractive! Because if they don’t spend the money now, that $165 million could very well become $300 million, that $700 million will easily top $1 billion, and no matter what, the math will be worse.

    1. Just to add- the work required to retrofit and raise the Embarcadero sea wall is a project currently in planning and a necessary expense. It would make a lot of sense to fold this project into that one. You might say it is outside the scope, but it would be worth it.

  2. Lame, and yet probably the best of the current options. Maybe in twenty years the political scene will have changed so that something interesting can be allowed to be built.

  3. Thank God we got the Brannan street Wharf built! Even though the Port is lack in maintaining the greens, it is still a nice addition to South Beach.

    As for 30-32 it makes a really nice dog walk at 4AM in the morning. Fido and I really enjoy the views of the cityscape from the Eastern edge of the piers. I don’t see this pier ever being developed in my lifetime and that’s OK. Not every inch of waterfront needs to be developed in San Francisco. Sometimes somethings are better left alone.

    Even pigeons and seagulls need their space…….

    1. Well that’s great that you get good feels from it, but the rest of us who can’t or won’t take leisurely strolls around a condemned hobo bathroom would have much preferred a basketball arena or some other use that is generally considered a civic asset in any part of the world that doesn’t pride itself on non-achievement.

      1. Uhmmmm… KYourself, wake up and smell the sweat. Your going to get your civic asset (arena) at a more cost effective location a short distance down the road.

        From a business perspective:

        Trying to build a basketball arena over the water on a crumbling set of piers made absolutely no economic sense. Spending an estimated $175 +- million on stabilizing the supporting structure was just one of the many deal breakers the Warriors faced. As for, “the rest of us”. Uhmmmm, that’s kind of a stretch.

        On another note:
        As for building anything taller than 40′ on the piers…..ain’t gong to happen…never…ever going to happen. And anyone who thinks otherwise is completely out of touch with SF waterfront politics.

        1. Maybe the $175 million was a dealbreaker, maybe not. Obviously they’re willing to spend a much larger amount on the entire project, so I don’t think it would be a dealbreaker, and in any case we don’t know exactly how much the stabilization would cost. I suspect a privately-funded venture would have been able to do it more cheaply than the city could.

          Is it more ‘cost-effective’? Probably for the owners. As someone who doesn’t own a basketball team, I care more about the city’s budget and the impacts on transportation and other city functions than I care about the owners’ budget. The mission bay lot would doubtlessly have been filled by something else which would also have contributed to the city, so that’s a wash. The only way Pier 30 will be developed is if it’s heavily or entirely subsidized by the city (bad for the city, obviously), or if it’s a vanity project where wealthy backers are willing to pay (ie the stadium).

          And it’s pretty clear to me that the pier 30 location was superior. The transit access of the new location is decidedly inferior (Muni streetcars simply don’t have the capacity, Caltrain only serves the peninsula and is also much lower capacity than Bart), so it’s obvious that the new location will be much more dependent on private cars. We’re already seeing the fallout from that, in that lots which could have been productively developed will instead be used for parking. This isn’t a net gain for the city– it’s a backdoor subsidy.

          But yeah, in the end it comes down to building taller than 40′ on the piers. Apparently we’ve made the decision that we’d rather the city lose money, that we’d rather have a less functional transportation system, as long as we don’t see any tall buildings on the piers. I think it’s dumb, but who am I, anyway?

          1. The Giants got the green light to build 24 stories a block or two from the Bay. Its a matter of the skids being greased I guess.

          2. The $175 Mill. figure is the one the Warriors faced from the start and they were willing to begin there. I think it was the regulatory hurdle they underestimated from the beginning.

            As far as financing the rehabilitation/development of the piers, there is available a very valuable asset (the seawall lot) which could be used if we weren’t so damned hung up on “preserving” the waterfront preventing utilizing it to its potential.

          3. Dave: the Giants development was approved in a citywide ballot measure that received overwhelming support. No skids were greased.

  4. Spending a long weekend in Chicago, it is absolutely dispiriting how positively bleak the Embarcadero seems in comparison to its Lakefront.

    What to do with Piers 30-32? Look to Maggie Daley Park, Chicago’s best kept secret built later as an adjunct to the more celebrated Millennium Park.

    How to pay for it? Build a luxury skyscraper on Seawall 330!

      1. I don’t have any info about the site you refer to, however I have to correct you on the Lucas Museum. George Lucas isn’t building in Chicago, due to local objections.

        From The Chicago Tribune this past June: George Lucas abandons Chicago, will build new museum in California:

        Officials at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced Friday that they are no longer considering Chicago as a site for the museum and that California will be the project’s future home.The museum cited “extensive delays” caused by legal action brought by Friends of the Parks, a Chicago activist group that opposed the “Star Wars” filmmaker’s attempts to construct his museum on sites near the shores of Lake Michigan.Museum officials are now exploring building on a site on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles also is one of the cities under consideration, they said.

        [Editor’s Note: Lucas Abandons Chicago Museum Plan, It’s Headed Back to California]

    1. I don’t think Maggie Daley Park would stand a chance in San Francisco. How is Chicago able to keep that park and adjacent Millennium Park so clean?

        1. Oh come on. Are you familiar with the reality of Chicago? It ain’t all Lakeshore Drive

          This is a City which is facing Detroit-level bankruptcy, steady depopulation except for a few core yuppie enclaves, and skyrocketing murder levels in many neighborhoods.

  5. There is nothing that would stop the Port from turning 30-32 into a public Art space. No additional parking would be required. Most likely the pier structure could easily handle several art installations.

    How about thinking outside of the box for a change. The two piers are currently used for special events, movie making logistic support and staging, ship mooring, bus storage, and surface parking. Not much of a public asset or user friendly.

    Adding a “Art” to the mix would a nice addition. Take a drive to Napa and check out Cornerstone to see how you can convert vacant land into a public environmentally sustainable asset full of Art.

    1. A. Cornerstone is in Sonoma, not Napa.
      B. Cornerstone is not public, but instead a privately owned financial failure that was recently bought by a private investment group.

      Other than that, your post was spot on.

  6. Hong Kong has a similar problem as SF in that there’s just nowhere left to build.

    They kicked around the idea to build a skyscraper in the water, on the edge of the existing land, as an expansion of land (like SFO adding a runway water infill project).

    As skyscrapers go, 13 acres is a pretty good foot print to build up from. It’s Burj Kalifa territory. Couldn’t ask for a better view or location. 100+ stories of mirrored glass on the water.

    SF should go big. Hey Tech Giants – there’s your vertical campus. Who else has the dollars and juice to make something so large that the numbers would work? 4 SalesForce sized towers on that foot print. Condos, shopping mall, CCSF extension campus.

  7. Anybody who’s been following along on SocketSite with Pier 30-32 since at least the Warrior’s efforts to build on the pier may remember that there was a comment at that time after the Warriors backed out of that plan about Nancy budgeting at the federal level for the teardown of the pier by the Army Corp of Engineers.

    If that budget is still in place, the city/port/state (?) wouldn’t receive that direct $40M hit. And as for the revenue generated, I’ll assume that’s a total over the lifetime of the piers – 20 to 30 years, so were talking about somewhere between $700K to $1M per year.

    Given the editor’s point about an earthquake having a potential to effect these numbers and assuming my points above, it sounds like the thing to do is tear it down. Now. Time to move on and solve bigger problems in the city than what to do with this pier.

  8. This should’ve been the warrior’s arena given how close it’d be to Bart, Caltrain and muni. But NIMBY prefer to dump traffic on other neighborhoods which will now be much worse than it’d ever be at this location.

    1. did you not read any of the article above, or the actual facts the Warriors faced with this site? To summarize (from memory) – $165M+ just to stabilize the site before development, murky regulatory landscape (BCDC, state lands, etc.), neighborhood and activist opposition, etc. So just because a stadium here was a fever dream of Warriors fans and armchair planners doesn’t mean it sense from a business perspective.

      1. The Warriors were willing to spend the $165M – it made sense to them from a business perspective. its the NIMBY opposition that blocked it. So Martins comment is correct.
        And now the NIMBY’s will be stuck with a crumbling pier for 30 years..

    2. Martin, the 30-32 location was cluster F—- for traffic. Privately the Warriors knew it and admitted it. Other than getting past the BCDC regs, the state lands doctrine laws, ensuing lawsuits to prevent building on the shoreline, overcoming traffic impacts on Muni and the Embarcadero was their #1 priority. To quote Rick Welts, ” if we can’t fix the traffic issues at 30-32 it’s not going to work for us”. Given the intersection of Bryant and the Embarcadero acting like a pouring traffic into funnel, 30-32 would have been a disaster and the Warriors knew it. Everything the Warriors tried to promote pursuant to traffic at 30-32 was wishful thinking and out of touch with reality.

      Martin, I sense you don’t live anywhere near 30-32. I also sense your have never worked on trying to solve traffic issues related to AT&T park or South Beach/ Mission Bay. If you have the time you might want to attend the meetings of the SFMTA traffic committee for the area.

      Mission Bay Ballpark Transportation Coordinating Committee Meeting

      Thursday September 15, 2016, 11 am – 12 noon.

      South Beach Harbor Community Room, downstairs from the Yacht Club, on the northerly side of the building.

        1. uh, yeah, ~100 days per year of traffic ‘mageddon courtesy of the orange and black every year since they popped the dotcom bubble with their bauble. FTR, ATT Park doesn’t have triple the capacity of the Warriors proposed arena for piers 30-32, let alone their proposed complex for the entire bryant/embarcadero cluster f*k.

  9. With a real architect it could be turned into the one, solitary, single **attractive parklet** in the city and county of SF. And a ginormous ultra-glam one at that.

    1. @unlivable, a great idea, but it’s my guess that somebody will have to come up with the $165 million to first stabilize the pier if it was to be developed into something permanent.

    2. “Parklet” hell, it could be site of a monumental recreational/cultural venue if we’d only develop the seawall to fund it.

    3. Not to sound like the lawyer, but a green space / “uber-parklet” wouldn’t satisfy the terms of the state’s grant of the land, any more than did the Warriors Arena. At least the Arena would have generated retail activity and revenue, and hence arguably related to “commerce”. A green park, no matter how attractive, and desirable it might be, has nothing to do with “commerce, navigation and fisheries”.

      Bottom line: you can’t ignore the fine print. Obviously there are many good ideas for this pier, but none of them are any closer to passing the regulatory hurdles than the Arena would have been.

      1. If no one steps in to fix it yugely, then it will rot until it becomes a ‘navigation hazard’. That could kick in Corps of Eng funding to cover some of the demo costs. Add in some state and city funds to preserve a remnant green space similar to the neighboring brannan wharf. Could fit some soccer/etc fields there marina greenish, probably won’t.

      1. We should also ask for ponies. Salesforce ponies. Google ponies. For every girl and boy. They could develop a free app called PonyShare where you could ride a pony to school, then let someone else share the pony.

        1. The point is, if such a park can be privately financed in NY, it can be done here as well. If you need another example of a privately funded waterfront investment, the Exploratorium raised $300 million in private funds to finance the construction of its current location.

      2. If Salesforce, Google and other tech companies *were* to donate funds to solve an issue, I’d rather it be tied to something serious like homelessness or drug addiction rather than this mess of a pier. It’s pretty clear our well provisioned government isn’t going to figure out those issues. The expectation that these companies should just dump money into every one of SF’s problems is absurd. As my mother liked to say “what, do you think money grows on trees?”

        1. If by “trees” you mean deluded investment funds eager to gusher money into technology “companies” that have never earned a profit, why yes, yes we do.

  10. Fold in some businesses to the park/rec concept, think House of Air at Chrissy Field and Voila! you’ve got revenue generating commerce and a public park. Let’s also bring some watercraft down there like large sailboats and ferry service.

    1. @J, while its a 1%’er problem, you bring up an interesting option – a helipad. Close proximity to FiDi. Big enough to land one, maybe two helicopters and room for Taxi/Uber/Lyft/private car to shuttle to and from.

      1. there used to be helipads in operation on the waterfront at Piers 43 and 1/2. The one by the Ferry Building had flights to SFO. I think they were closed due to structural issues with pier 1/2 as well as noise complaints with both. FWIW, SF has dozens of emergency helipad /helispot landing sites (list in appendix B of pdf at namelink), but very few active helipads.

        1. @Jake, to cross-pollinate two separate Socketsite threads, I could imagine Uber getting into this business, using their cash on hand to repair and build out the site, and operating commute copters to/from SFO/OAK/SJC among other places.

          Add in a water taxi component so the plan complies with state (?) for water usage and there you go… literally.

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