Presidio’s Tunnel Tops Project to Make Urban National Park Accessible When It’s Needed Most

Presidio, Presidio Trust, San Francisco, Tunnel Tops, National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Courtesy of The Presidio Trust

By Meghan Hall

When the Presidio’s Tunnel Tops project broke ground in November of 2019, few could fathom how much more important accessible green spaces would become to San Francisco residents and the wider Bay Area community. The pandemic has prompted a desire for open space and a respite from density more than ever before. Looking ahead, the Presidio Trust believes that the 14-acre Tunnel Tops project will play a critical role in not just San Francisco’s growth, but a growing movement to balance urbanism with open, green space.

“We live in a world that is increasingly urban, is rapidly urbanizing and the population of San Francisco is going up,” explained The Presidio’s Chief of Park Development and Visitor Engagement Michael Boland. “I’ve seen plenty of forecasts that by 2050, there will be more than one million people living in San Francisco, and all of that increase in density, increase in traffic, increase of activity, needs an antidote. And that antidote is nature.”

In its entirety, the Presidio totals 1,500 acres and operated as one of the longest-garrisoned posts in the country between 1776 and 1994, after which it was transferred to the National Park Service. With its open spaces and more than 700 buildings, it is the only national park within the United States that is required to be independently funded and fully self-sufficient.

“Preserving the Presidio is becoming increasingly important…we’ve seen that really highlighted because of COVID-19,” added Boland.

The Presidio Trust worked with over 10,000 community members to garner feedback as to what should be included within the Tunnel Tops project. For many community members, having a central gathering spot, or something to anchor the park’s extensive grounds was key, as was increased wayfinding. With the project, visitors will be able to walk directly between Crissy Field and the main visitor’s post for the first time in decades thanks to new park space that will be placed over new tunnels housing Doyle Drive.

“The Presidio is about five percent of San Francisco’s land area and it is a large, contiguous site which means you can get lost in it. And that’s one of the biggest complaints we get from the public actually, that it’s easy to get lost,” stated Boland. “But it’s also one of the things they love most about it… The Tunnel Tops project is really exciting in so far as it really has given us an opportunity to address some of the things we’ve heard from the community, to reconnect the park in a way since it hadn’t been connected since the 1930s.”

The community also wanted spaces and experiences that could not be found in your typical neighborhood or state park.

“They wanted a reason to get on the bus and come across town,” Boland emphasized. “They wanted experience that would be unique.”

Designed by the firms behind New York’s High Line, the Tunnel Tops will include a wide variety of new amenities for guests and act as an anchor and heart of the park—a place for guests to begin their visit. A Golden Gate Meadow with 360 views of the Bay and City Skyline will be one of the largest single grassed areas of the project. A cliff walk and parklands overlook will provide additional views. A new youth campus, field station and a child-friendly environmental education center dubbed “The Outpost” will provide additional entertainment for guests.

Additionally, The Trust is looking to lease two buildings: 201 and 215. Ideally building 215, located at the transit center, would be leased to a grab-and-go food service to provide not just for guests, but the 3,400 residents and nearly 4,000 employees who call the greater Presidio home. Building 205, one of the park’s historic assets, would be leased to food vendors in a food-hall like manner with a variety of cuisines reflective of the diversity of San Francisco and its guests.

“We’ll have a really steady flow of people coming to visit the site, and they’re going to be hungry. We hope this will give them a reason to not only come, but a reason to stay and to spend their day,” Boland noted.

The Tunnel Tops was made feasible by the herculean efforts of not just The Presidio Trust, but also the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Because The Presidio receives no federal funding, it fell upon the two organizations to raise the entirety of the funds needed for the $118 million price tag. While The Trust contributed about $20 million of its own funds, garnered from revenues, the two organizations managed to wrap up a $98 million fundraiser, most of which was collected during a “quiet” phase of the campaign in the spring of this year.

The Trust hopes to have the project completed by 2021, at which point officials believe that The Presidio will garner at least one million visitors in the first year. 

“Everybody, all the organizations, but also everyone that comes to visit, by being there you’re supporting the park,” said Boland. “…Not only do you get to have a good time when you come, you get to feel good about every dollar you spend.”

Courtesy of The Presidio Trust
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