The Port of San Francisco has just issued a formal solicitation of developers and tenants interested in redeveloping thirteen of San Francisco’s historic piers, along with the Agriculture Building adjacent to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, stretching from, and including, Pier 35 to Pier 48 (yes, that’s the one that Anchor Brewing was to occupy).

Proposed concepts are expected to align with the public-oriented priorities outlined in San Francisco’s Waterfront Land Use Plan, priorities which include “arts and culture, assembly and entertainment, education, food and beverage, maritime (excursion and leisure), museums, recreation and specialty retail.”

“Other uses that attract the public—such as movie theaters, grocery stores, or general retail—are unlikely to fit this public-oriented definition as these categories do not promote and highlight the historic, waterfront facility as part of the primary patron experience.”

And yes, in order to be taken seriously, respondents to the Request for Interest (RFI) “must have the relevant experience to implement their concept and the appropriate access to financial resources to execute [their] visions.”

Keep in mind that all fourteen of the historic structures (Pier 35; Pier 33; Pier 31; Pier 29½; Pier 29; Pier 23; Pier 19½; Pier 19; Agriculture Building; Pier 26; Pier 28; Pier 38; Pier 40; and Pier 48) are in need of some serious rehabilitation.

And based on responses to the RFI, which are due at the end of October, the Port is expecting to issue a targeted Request for Proposals (RFP) in early 2019. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Martin

    I’d like to see more “water” uses. In other areas, the coast is dotted with restaurants and bars with many offering private dock space to customers. It creates nice vibe and gives restaurants more chance for success with additional source of customers.

    • Posted by Martin

      Let me just add that not a single restaurant on SF provides a dock for boats. There’s one in TIburon and one in Alameda.

      • Posted by bachman_erlich_overdrive

        Let me add that I was recently asked to leave an establishment for wearing Sperry Top-siders and a cravat. “Ahoy polloi!”

        • Posted by Notcom

          But were you wearing anything else ??

          • Posted by BobN

            In his defense, it was a very long cravat.

  2. Posted by Sierrajeff

    I hate to say it, but I think part of the problem is that there’s just a surfeit of piers. That is, I love the old pier fronts, and having (theoretical) connections to the water. But if there were that many viable uses for piers out there (which also shoehorned into the Port’s public-use needs), then we wouldn’t need the Port to issue an RFI; developers would be approaching the Port already.

    When I think about other great water-oriented cities that I’ve visited, they seem to have a lot fewer (or smaller) piers – Boston has Long Wharf and Rowes Wharf, but that’s about it; most of the old piers there have been dismantled (but the waterfront it still vibrant restaurants and public walkways). I feel like it’s the same in Vancouver and NYC, where you either have marinas or no piers (with the occasional exception, such as on the west side of Manhattan).

    One big impediment to similar uses of the bay here is the Embarcadero – e.g. in Boston, the harbor edge is buildings and public walkways, not a 4- or 6-lane arterial. So maybe the answer here is to tear down the bulk of each of these piers (to minimize restoration and maintenance costs), and then in concert develop the remaining stubs into mixed-use buildings (much like Pier 3 (?) north of the Ferry Building).

    • Posted by SFRealist

      This is a great idea. Tear most of them down and open up the world class views across the bay.

    • Posted by curmudgeon

      You are so very wrong about Boston. Just take a look at a map. Downtown is VERY similar to SF in terms of piers. What’s different is that ANY land use is allowed on Boston piers, and most of them are now residential, hotel, or office. NONE of these uses are allowed in SF, due both to State Lands provisions AND our stupid voter mandates. Because there are no uses that can pay for renovation of these piers, they will inevitably drop into the sea, no matter how many RFI’s P’s or Q’s the Port puts out.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        Well, OK fine. I lived in Boston for years, and yeah it’s obvious that, e.g., the Marriott is on a former pier. But my point is you don’t have big empty piers sticking out all over, like S.F.

        But thanks for living up to your name.

        • Posted by Bobby Mucho

          The piers are empty because of restrictive regulation for use types, relative costs for retrofitting, and more importantly all of the NIMBY nonsense; not because of lack of interest. I mean, how many lawsuits does the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood association currently have open against waterfront development at the moment?

          • Posted by Tim E

            Bobby Mucho brings up one of the huge obstacles to any meaningful development. The cost to bring up the piers to a state of good repair and meet seismic and all the other regulations is huge. Most of the physical work is hand, manual labor between tight old wooden piers if you want to keep in place. Who know what the consultant, engineering and then more fees to appease on the regulatory agencies even before you touch a pile. Then throw in the cost to rebuild the sea wall before the next major earthquake and or to meet future sea level rise.

            It really comes down to how many piers does the city want to keep and the fact that it will be funded by the public just like rebuilding the sea wall. Somehow this city brings in a lot of money, has some of most demanded real estate in the country and yet falls on its face in bringing Muni to high standards and its sea wall/piers continue to deteriorate.

        • Posted by curmudgeon

          I lived in Boston for years too, and you were saying Boston has few piers. I was just saying that’s clearly not true. The critical difference is the way we regulate waterfront land uses in San Francisco. And, yes, I’m a curmudgeon. 😉

      • Posted by Frisco

        How are companies like Ideo or the Pier 24 photography museum allowed? Were they grandfathered in?

        • Posted by curmudgeon

          I’m not clear on all of the ways, but generally if you provide public access (like the museum you note) you can build. Offices also can be allowed if they provide enhanced public office around the site, but I think they may also need to claim some public purposes through the site. Residential and hotel are not allowed under any conditions, per restrictions put on by SF voters in the 1990’s. What’s tragic is that these uses could pay for improvements, and could be conditioned on providing public access as well. But…you know San Francisco voters….they didn’t want to “privatize” the waterfront. So instead it’s going to fall into the bay.

  3. Posted by Orland

    I see no reason “public” should not include a mix of residential use. And, certainly hotels (our new community meeting places) would be attractive amenities which might also prove financially feasible in view of rehabilitation costs.

    [Editor’s Note: Positioning San Francisco’s Piers for a Luxury Hotel and Tech Space]

    • Posted by Hunter

      Agree 100%. Let’s get some hotels with waterfront restaurants and boat-docks up in here! Also, does anyone know what’s going on with the gigantic Pier 30 parking lot? That seems like a perfect spot for some new development…

      • Posted by van nessident

        If I remember correctly that was the originally proposed site for the Warriors stadium in SF, but South Beach residents didn’t like that idea.

      • Posted by SocketSite

        As we first reported a couple years ago: The Likely Fate of San Francisco’s Prominent Piers 30-32

        • Posted by Can't Think of Cool Name

          I just went back and re-read that Pier 30/32 article. In regards to the point about tearing out the pier at $40M and losing $21M in parking revenue, wasn’t there budget at the federal level thanks to Nancy for the Army Corp of Engineers to tear out the pier?

          If true, the city would lose the $21M but a least the cost is already paid for by a lot more people than city residents. Plus, I’d think part of the $21M would end up paying for ongoing maintenance on the pier so that it would still have some viable use. Right?

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        That’s kind of the Rowes Wharf model in Boston, and it works really well. The main building is a combo hotel / residential / small office; and behind it along the water there’s an outdoor seating space for restaurant / bar, and a space suitable for private parties or a small public concert. (And if you’re not familiar with Rowes Wharf look it up; part of the key to its success is a huge arch cutting through the building, which does a great job of inviting people to explore the waterfront behind the building.)

        • Posted by curmudgeon

          Rowes Wharf is absolutely fantastic.

          • Posted by curmudgeon

            and sadly a model that isn’t allowed to work in SF.

  4. Posted by bachman_erlich_overdrive

    Two words here:

    MODULAR

    HOUSEBOATS

    Global warming proofed.
    Additive to Housing Emergency.
    Funky.
    Two story – won’t block Aaron Peskin’s view.
    Can be constructed in Stockton with cheap labor, or in Guangzhou, by children, and towed to the site.
    Get some Dutch Brothers from Amsterdam to design ’em. Let’s do this.

    • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

      I like the idea but believe that the water is a lot more choppy on the SF waterfront compared to Mission Bay or the harbors up in Sausalito. Could make for a pleasant rocking to sleep or a home that induces nausea.

  5. Posted by Abe

    I like how the port let the piers deteriorate over all these years and now want private parties to spend tens of millions of dollars to seismically retrofit them. Without that work, you really can’t develop those piers. Why do you think Anchor Brewing abandoned their project?

    • Posted by optimist

      great point … unless the port is willing to do the work in upgrading them …. this is a not realistic… unless its something super luxury. Their list of things not to do basically eliminates 90% of how we interact with our urban environment… in the states.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      I don’t know if the Port let them deteriorate. Piers need expensive upkeep and the Port is very limited about how it can raise money. It’s not well run, but its options are very limited.

  6. Posted by Richard

    This process seems a little weird. Why put out an RFI if the only outcome is an RFP? Would anyone put a lot of time into an RFI interest document (don’t call it a proposal) just to see the Port chew it up?

  7. Posted by desnarkify

    three words: Sea Level Rise

  8. Posted by Wahrheit macht frei

    At the very least, some of them could serve a recreational purpose while we’re wasting the next 10 years looking for more value-added options. Soccer fields, tennis courts, etc. would not require much foundational retrofitting, compared to multi-story buildings. The warehouses would have to go, obviously.

  9. Posted by Sabbie

    Shipping container villages for the homeless. Not joking.

  10. Posted by another anon

    The major roadblock to Pier development is the very limited list of trust-allowable permitted uses. Then add in massive costs and the red tape of dealing with a multitude federal, state and local agencies.

    Just to give an idea of how impossible it is to do anything with the piers, the developer of the Ferry Building was proposing having some food trucks right inside Pier 38, then ultimately gave up because it was just way too difficult (not worth the effort and cost).

    • Posted by SFRealist

      Exactly. And I think those regulations are set by state law, so we need the legislature to make any changes.

      • Posted by curmudgeon

        only some of them. San Francisco added to the restrictions disallowing hotels on the waterfront in Proposition H (1990).

  11. Posted by Philip

    Why the big hurry? That prime real estate has only been idle for fifty years or so.

  12. Posted by Aaron Goodman

    back to the wall (war) on the waterfront issue…..

  13. Posted by Dave

    I doubt that the Port of San Francisco will get all that many proposals. Especially if the project sponsor has to contribute significantly to retrofitting the piers. The uses are too restrictive. Housing with waterfront access would be an amazing use but it is not going to happen. Another city, lips sealed, has such. Actually several other cities do. Hotels with waterfront access would be amazing. Tie that with residential and a waterfront museum and you’d have something grand. But those options are prevented from the get-go and if anything comes of this it will be pedestrian..

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