By Meghan Hall
After a decade of planning, the redevelopment of Pier 70 is finally being realized, as master developer Forest City broke ground in May 2018 on its 28-acre portion of the Pier 70 project. Part of a public-private partnership between the Port of San Francisco, Forest City and Orton Development, the revitalization of the pier is expected to breathe new life into a long vacant portion of the city’s waterfront that sits adjacent to San Francisco’s burgeoning Dog Patch neighborhood.
“There’s a real sense that the Dogpatch is going to be a central part of San Francisco, especially as the Giants, Warriors, Foster City and the Potrero Power Plant projects move forward,” said Orton Development partner James Madsen.
Forest City’s groundbreaking on its portion of the Pier 70 project follows closely on the heels of the delivery of the 20th Street Historic Core project, the result of a collaboration between Orton Development and the Port of San Francisco, which is all but completed. Orton Development began construction on the five-acre site, located along 20th Street and east of Illinois Street, in mid-2015 and is in the process of seismically retrofitting and updating all eight buildings on the site, which covers 266,963 square feet of space. According to Madsen, only the Bethlehem Steel administrative building, to be leased by Restoration Hardware, and another small building only recently available for renovation, have yet to be finished.
Taken together, the two projects comprise a significant portion of the refurbishment of Pier 70 and represent an extensive amount of collaboration between the Port of San Francisco, the community and both developers.
“Our goal was to create inspiring, meaningful space and to reconnect these historic buildings back to the Dogpatch after they had sat vacant and fenced off for years,” said Madsen.
The entire site, which encompasses 69 acres of shipyard property is one of the most intact industrial complexes in the United States and was the headquarters for Union Iron Works and Bethlehem Steel. Pier 70’s role in the development of steel shipbuilding in the United States spanned from 1884 until the end of World War II. Forest City’s ground breaking is just the first part of the multi-phase, mixed-use project that will focus on rehabilitating the Pier’s historic buildings and creating affordable housing.
“Plans created with the community for Pier 70 will restore its economic, civic and cultural value to the city,” explained Jack Sylvan, Forest City’s senior vice president. “The waterfront hasn’t been publicly accessible in over 100 years, yet it’s awash in industrial history, compelling architecture and open spaces, all of which sit along the waterfront and next to a neighborhood teeming with creativity.”
Once the City of San Francisco approved the plans in November of 2017, the Port and Forest City were ready to hit the ground running; the redevelopment of Pier 70 is the fastest master planning project in San Francisco’s history, having progressed from project approval to the beginning of construction in roughly six months.
“They are definitely on the forefront of that compressed timeline,” said Phil Williamson, a project manager for the Port, of the Foster City’s efforts to get the ball rolling on the project. “We wanted to deliver on our commitments for public, open space in San Francisco.”
Despite the project’s quick turnaround and implementation, the preliminary groundwork for Pier 70 was laid in 2010, when the Port first developed its Preferred Master Plan. According to Sylvan, conceptualization of the plans, along with garnering community input and support, took roughly six years and many site tours and small onsite events.
“Transformative projects like Pier 70 are a marathon of commitment, creativity and partnership,” said Sylvan. “Our work reflects seven years spent with an extensive and diverse set of stakeholders to understand and bring life to a vision everyone supports.”
The collaborative efforts of the Port and Forest City paid off, when in June 2014, the redevelopment of Pier 70 was approved under Proposition B after 73 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the measure.
“The Port’s Master Planning efforts provided the framework and engaged the community for Pier 70 that both Orton Development and Forest City are excited to implement,” echoed Williamson.
Originally, the plan was to turn the Pier into a business park, but the Port and Forest City later changed the plans to develop Pier 70 into a mixed-use neighborhood due to its potential for higher long-term value.
“The project will generate significant revenues, especially from the tax increment generated by the new commercial and residential uses thanks to the Port’s ability to create Infrastructure Financing Districts,” explained Williamson. “These revenues will provide the Port with the means to invest in infrastructure important to the economic well-being of the neighborhood and contribute toward the future strengthening of Port-wide infrastructure.”
Phase I of Foster City’s portion of the development will prepare for the construction of between 1.1 and 1.75 million square feet and 480,000 square feet of commercial and retail, arts and industrial space, respectively. Three of the site’s historic buildings, Buildings 2, 12 and 21, will be rehabilitated while seven other structures, which includes 92,945 square feet of space, will be demolished. The new infrastructure part of the initial stages of construction include extending the street grade and raising it for the entire 28-acre site. Plans include raising the ground underneath Building 12, the 120,000 square foot building slated to become the new Maker’s Market Hall, nearly nine feet.
The entire project will also include between 1,100 and 2,150 apartment units, 30 percent of which are slated for affordable housing; Forest City’s initial phase will include the preliminary development of approximately 665 of the project’s housing units. The anticipated completion of Phase I is sometime between 2021-2022, with the following two phases to be implemented and delivered in the next 15 to 20 years. The entire project will cost over $2 billion dollars according to Sylvan.