Port of San Francisco Issues Request for Interest to Redevelop Embarcadero Historic District

Port of San Francisco, Embarcadero, AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants, South of Market, Mission Rock, Agriculture Building, Ferry Building, BART

By Meghan Hall

The Port of San Francisco and San Francisco Port Commission have received more than 50 responses to a three-month long Request for Interest (RFI) process initiated in August 2018 to redevelop 13 historic finger piers and the Agriculture Building in the Embarcadero Historic District. The Port hoped to create what it called a “laboratory of ideas,” pulling on the expertise of small businesses and master tenants alike before requesting input from the general public mid-November.

“Increasing public access to the waterfront and the piers in the Embarcadero Historic District is absolutely a priority for the Port, since this was a key recommendation from the Waterfront Land Use Plan Update process,” said Port of San Francisco Executive Director Elaine Forbes in a statement. “We are pleased with the robust response to the RFI, and we look forward to hearing feedback from the public.”

The 14 facilities included in the RFI include Piers 35 to 29, located on the northern part of the waterfront; Piers 23 to 19, which combined could have a footprint of over 300,000 square feet; Piers 26 to 40, connected to the City’s rapidly growing and increasingly popular South of Market neighborhood; Pier 48, located across from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants on the waterside of the Mission Rock neighborhood; and the historic Agriculture Building, adjacent to the Ferry Building and Downtown Ferry Terminal and Embarcadero BART Station.

Most of the facilities included in the RFI, according to public documents, are occupied by interim tenants. Should the Port decide to issue solicitations for the sites, it will be in charge of planning a transition from interim tenancies to long-term leases.

According to the Port, responses were diverse, spanning an array of uses ranging from active recreation, maritime excursions, education, a mixed-use development with a hotel—although hotels are currently prohibited in piers—food and beverage uses and museums and art exhibitions.

“All responses include an explanation as to how their concept ensures that these one-of-a-kind historic resources are accessible to the public,” said Forbes.

The Port defines public-oriented businesses and organizations as not only retail and restaurants but also a mix of artist studios and galleries, maker products, cultural institutions and entertainment uses, so long as the proposals adhere to the City’s Waterfront Land Use Plan, adopted in June 2015.

The Port’s goal is to develop the properties into public-oriented places as a continuation of what Forbes called a “remarkable urban waterfront renaissance” that has been in the works since the Embarcadero Freeway came down in 1989. San Francisco’s waterfront is a bustling redevelopment opportunity and has garnered $1.6 billion in public-private investment since 1997 and currently accounts for 6.5 million square feet of the city’s approved new developments. Public-private partnerships have allowed for the rehabilitation of several Piers so far, beginning with Pier 1 in 2001 and the Historic Ferry Building in 2003 all the way into 2018, when ground broke for the redevelopment of Pier 70 — a 35-acre patch of land which is expected to accommodate up to 2,000 residential units in addition to a variety of residential and commercial uses — broke ground in May. The City estimates that over 24 million people visit San Francisco’s waterfront every year.

Currently, the Port is working to obtain public feedback online and through a series of meetings as Port staff conducts analyses on the proposals during the first few months of 2019. The Port anticipates completing their analyses in February of 2019, at which time one more Requests for Proposals will be issued. The Port notes that RFPs must be in compliance with the Embarcadero Seawall Program, a $425 million General Obligation bond approved by San Francisco voters to rebuild the City’s waterfront. How long the RFP process will take and when the Port will select a partner and begin the approvals process has yet to be determined.

The Port will evaluate the feasibility of each proposal, although there is always the possibility the Port could choose not to issue an RFP at all, since the RFI is only the first step in a long and complex rehabilitation and preservation process for the piers. The public commentary period for the Embarcadero Historic District follows on the heels of the Port’s decision not to issue an RFP for the lease and operation of the Pier 70 Shipyard. The Port found in November that the two proposals submitted during a second-round RFP process would not establish a sustainable ship repair enterprise. Ideally, however, the Port hopes that the RFI process results in one or more productive partnerships.

“The Port is a public enterprise department that relies upon the revenues generated by its properties to pay its cost of operations,” states the RFI. “Ultimately, the desired outcome of the Transactional Phase is the selection of a tenant or group of tenants that includes sufficient revenue generation to pay for a rehabilitation project as well as publicly-oriented uses to satisfy Public Trust Objectives and the community’s desire for more engagement with the rehabilitated facility. The Port anticipates achieving this through the issuance of an RFP, if directed by the Port Commission.”