San Francisco’s 28-Acre Potrero Power Plant Development Inches Closer to Approval

Renderings Courtesy of Associate Capital, Perkins + Will and the City of San Francisco

By Sasha Vasilyuk

In its thirst for more housing, San Francisco has been looking to transform the Central Waterfront from an industrial no man’s land to a livable neighborhood. Last year saw the groundbreaking of Pier 70, a 28-acre mixed-use site, which followed a city-wide vote and ten years of planning. Now, the Central Waterfront neighborhood may be getting another key development with the Potrero Power Plant, a 29-acre Bay-facing site around the prominent 300-foot stack just south of Pier 70.

Developed by Associate Capital, the proposed mixed-use, mixed-income project would include housing, retail, office space, R&D, parks and open space, as well as a hotel, all with waterfront access and views of the Bay. The project is scheduled to be heard at the Planning Commission on September 5 and could potentially be approved as early as October 3.

Blocked from public access for over a century, the site is located on a peninsula historically called Potrero Point, which has housed several industries since the 1850s, including gunpowder, sugar, iron smelting, cordage manufacturing and barrel-making. The first power plant was built here in 1901 to support a sugar refinery, and by 1905 it was producing the majority of San Francisco’s power. It was then acquired by PG&E, and in 1965 the company added the 300-foot stack, which generated approximately one-third of the city’s power. The plant was shut down in 2011 when the Trans Bay Cable project made it possible for power to be sent from Pittsburg to San Francisco. Two years ago, PG&E begun remediation work to clean up the area.

The new vision for this site proposed by Associate Capital, which bought the parcel in 2016, would include up to 2,600 residential units, including affordable housing. The exact mix of for-rent and for-sale offerings will be determined after the project is entitled. The proposed project would also include up to 1.9 million square feet of office space, research and development, retail, PDR, a hotel, about 100,000 square feet of community facilities and 6 acres of parks and open space, including a playground, an active waterfront and a rooftop soccer field. Once rezoned, the buildings would range from 65 to 180 feet, excluding the refurbished stack that would remain as a unique feature of the site and may house retail on the ground level.

The waterfront would be designed to anticipate 66 inches of sea level rise, which is the current projection for the year 2100. It would also include the Blue Greenway, a part of the San Francisco Bay Trail that would improve the city’s southern portion of the 500-mile, nine-county regional Bay Trail.

The project’s architect and master planner is Perkins + Will, chosen for its experience with creating other “resilient maritime destinations”. The landscape architect for the project is CMG and the civil engineering firm is CBG.

“It’s not every day we as urban designers/planners get the opportunity to work on a project that will return nearly 30 acres of beautiful waterfront land back to the community,” said Geeti Silwal, Principal at Perkins + Will. “For a century and a half, the public has been cut off from the Bay, right here in the heart of Dogpatch. That will change when this becomes a true, vibrant neighborhood. Moreover, we get to be a part of the process that will reimagine a heavy industrial site, long the scourge of the community, and transform it into a model of urban infill and city living.”

Since 2017, the developer has been collaborating with neighbors and city agencies as well as PG&E and The Port of San Francisco to plan and design the site. Speaking at an event last year, partner Enrique Landa said his company went on a listening tour during which residents said they wanted housing and not to have a community that looks like Mission Bay. They also asked to keep the iconic stack.

“We’ve maintained an excellent relationship with the surrounding community,” said PJ Johnston, spokesperson for Potrero Power Plant. “Folks are very eager to see the neighborhood reconnected with the waterfront at this beautiful location.”

Before construction begins, PG&E would need to finish its cleanup efforts, which are currently more than 80 percent complete. The cleanup is being performed in accordance with the Remedial Action Plan approved by the San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board.

Several existing buildings would also need to be raised, including four historic resources identified as contributors to San Francisco’s Third Street Industrial Historic District. In their effort to preserve and reuse some existing structures, Associate Capital is proposing to convert the Unit 3 Power Station, a 130-foot steel building adjacent to the stack, into a boutique, 190-room hotel.

The project would also have a significant impact on transportation. The Potrero Power Plant sits along the T-Muni line and the 48-bus line that would need to accommodate thousands of new residents and employees. The 22nd Street CalTrain station is also located a couple of blocks away.

Once approved, the Potrero Power Plant would be built in phases over 15 years. The developers hope to break ground in 2020.

“While any project of this scale faces a lengthy and complex approval process, we are very enthusiastic about our prospects for getting approved,” said Johnston.

Renderings Courtesy of Associate Capital, Perkins + Will and the City of San Francisco

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News