After Three Decades, Chris Meany Reflects on Building in the ‘Greatest Place on Earth’

The Registry Bay Meadows real estate development
Christopher Meany with Wilson Meany partner Janice Thacher crossing the Caltrain line into the Bay Meadows development in San Mateo

By Nancy Amdur

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]conic Bay Area projects such as the rehabilitation of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, the restoration of the city’s historic Art Deco office tower at 140 New Montgomery and the in-progress redevelopment of Treasure Island and San Mateo’s Bay Meadows all have one thing in common: they are part of investment and development firm Wilson Meany’s portfolio.

[contextly_sidebar id=”e4c3b80f82c38ab9dcd2ca029d8705d7″]At the company’s helm is Christopher Meany, managing partner, who is being recognized for his contributions with this year’s Spirit of Life Award, presented annually by the City of Hope’s Northern California Real Estate and Construction Council. The award honors outstanding business leadership and philanthropic achievement.

Meany carries nearly 30 years of Bay Area development experience and would not want to be anywhere else.

“I think San Francisco is the greatest place on Earth to live,” he said. “It’s a city with diversity, complexity and great public spaces. The idea of a real city that is an intimate size is pretty special.”

Meany grew up in Southern California and graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in economics. He began his real estate career in the New York office of Aston Development Corp. and came to San Francisco in the ’80s to work on the renovation of Union Square’s historic J. Magnin building. He never left.

He formed his own development practice specializing in high-value mixed-use and retail developments, and in 1996, he co-founded Wilson/Meany, LLC with prominent developer William Wilson, who passed away last year. That firm was a predecessor to Wilson Meany, founded in 2003.

Meany notes that even with shifts in the economy, the Bay Area attracts people due, in part, to its top universities and medical centers, a government looking to have “sensible rules around business development” and the “incredible physical environment.”

“We really do have a special economy here, and it’s not by accident. There are sustainable engines for growth, [and] I think those things are going to continue to draw innovators here.”

This demand fuels the city’s tight, pricey residential market. While Meany says “a decent amount of housing is being created,” he adds that opposition from residents sometimes stalls projects.

“There is bad development that should be stopped, but there is good development that is necessary for our growth,” he said.

However, Meany understands residents’ passion about protecting the waterfront from large developments. Along with the Ferry Building, Wilson Meany waterfront projects include Rincon Park at Folsom Street and the Exploratorium at Piers 15-17.

“San Francisco is a waterfront city and the waterfront is terribly important to everyone,” he said.

There are underutilized areas in the city to build that “won’t adversely impact anybody,” he said, such as Hunters Point, Candlestick and Wilson Meany’s joint venture project on Treasure Island. Though, he adds that there are “no-growther” residents who seem to disapprove of city development in general.

“Protect the edge of the waterfront, yes, but be against everything—that’s not right either,” he said.

In fact, the Treasure Island plan, which calls for 8,000 homes, has been halted for three years due to a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit filed by citizens and environmental groups. He hopes it will be resolved in the next year.

Wilson Meany develops mixed-use, residential, retail and office properties and the firm specializes in complex, large-scale master planned developments. It aims to create projects that are sustainable and innovative.

“It’s much better to thoughtfully plan out new areas and develop them than wedging in too big of a building in an already established neighborhood,” Meany said.

On the retail front, he favors keeping traditional San Francisco retail blocks, such as Union Street or Fillmore Street, rather than the movement he sees to haphazardly add retail to encourage pedestrian traffic. “I think that is a mistake,” he said, “it’s going to take the energy away from the corridors. We can’t have every street in the city be a retail street.”

Looking ahead, Meany expects there will be more infilling along transportation corridors for office space. Also, because people are working and living in smaller spaces, amenities are becoming more central to projects.

At its downtown office building at 140 New Montgomery, for example, there is a garden where people can take breaks, he said. At Bay Meadows, there will be housing, offices, retail, parks, a private high school and a Caltrain stop.

“We see tenants on the office side driving up the density of their use, putting more people onto a given floor. The residential version of that is that as prices have gone up, the average person is buying a little smaller house than they might have once upon a time, because the price per foot is higher.

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh that’s an economic reality, how do we shoehorn more people into the space?’ I think there’s a real exciting challenge: how do we make the new ways of living and officing better because we amenitize it differently?”

Other Wilson Meany projects include the restoration of the city’s landmark Flood Building in Union Square; Parkside Towers, an office-retail project in Foster City; and retail property Broadway Pointe in Walnut Creek.

Meany will receive the City of Hope Spirit of Life during an award dinner at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 29.

Duarte, Calf.-based City of Hope is a biomedical research, treatment and education center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

Meany said that the area’s real estate industry has supported City of Hope for decades, and he recently had the “amazing and humbling experience” of touring the facility and meeting some researchers.

The Northern California Real Estate and Construction Council, which includes developers, contractors, engineers and architects, began in 1986 and has raised more than $4.5 million for the City of Hope. Past Spirit of Life honorees include Craig Allison of Plant Construction Company, LLP; Michael Covarrubias of TMG Partners; and Rick Holliday of Holliday Development.

Photo by Chad Ziemendorf