Transbay: The Center of it All

Transbay San Francisco The Registry real estate Arup

San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center spurs billions of dollars in private-sector construction.


By Maria Shao

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]all it a new heart for downtown San Francisco.

Right now, it’s a five-acre hole, 65 feet deep. Since spring 2011, crews using cranes, rigs, excavators and other gear have been digging dirt and pouring concrete below San Francisco’s Mission Street. They have excavated a Columbian mammoth’s tooth, Chinese porcelain teapots, copper-plated spoons and 19th century apothecary jars. Roughly 300 steel pipes, three feet in diameter, crisscross the hole, bracing the surrounding walls. Throughout the site, digital sensors and automated surveying instruments provide real-time data on the shoring walls and groundwater levels to engineers working in the canyon below.

From this enormous pit, a $4.2 billion crown jewel for San Francisco will emerge: The Transbay Transit Center, scheduled to open in 2017, is a once-in-a-generation public investment, a Grand Central Station of the West that will link 11 bus and transit systems to a pedestrian- and bike-friendly urban core.

[pullquote_right]Seifel Consulting expects commercial and residential properties up to three-fourths of a mile from the Transbay Transit Center to see their values boosted by $3.7 billion.[/pullquote_right]Private developers are rushing to ride the economic swell that will dramatically change San Francisco’s skyline and expand and upgrade its downtown. Among the new buildings will be San Francisco’s tallest, the 60-story Transbay Transit Tower, which will connect to the terminal’s 5.4-acre rooftop park. Nearby, mostly on Folsom Street, will be residential high rises, town homes and other housing.

The terminal’s construction “will change the face of the South of Market Financial District,” said Matt Lituchy, chief investment officer for Jay Paul Co., which is building a skyscraper in the zone. “We will have the best transportation hub in the Western U.S. The city’s center is shifting from north of Market [Street] to south of Market.”

For the project’s first phase, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, formed in 2001, has raised $1.6 billion from federal, state and local sources to build a one-million-square-foot station designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. It replaces the original Transbay terminal, which was built in 1939 and demolished in 2011. Idled freeway ramps nearby, damaged in the 1989 earthquake, also were torn down. The result: The state gave 19 acres to the project, 12 of them developable. Sales of this land will generate at least $500 million that the TJPA can use to fund construction.

The second phase will extend San Francisco’s Caltrain line from the station at Fourth and King streets to the terminal via a 1.3-mile tunnel, largely under Second Street. The tunnel would provide uninterrupted service from downtown San Francisco to the Peninsula and Silicon Valley. Someday high-speed rail may connect to Southern California. So far, $600 million of the $2.6 billion for Phase 2 has been raised.

Over 15 years or so, 6 million square feet of new offices and 4,500 new housing units, of which more than 1,400 will be affordable, should be built in the Transbay district. In addition, 11 acres of new parks, 100,000 square feet of retail space and nearly 1,000 hotel rooms will be created. “We are going to see the tallest buildings in the city go up around the new Transbay Transit Center. It is going to be one of the city’s great truly mixed-use neighborhoods,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a non-profit civic-planning group.

Both phases of the project will lead to an estimated 125,000 jobs, and more than $87 billion in gross regional product will be generated through 2030, the TJPA predicted. TJPA adviser Seifel Consulting last year estimated that after completion of both phases, owners of commercial and residential properties up to three-fourths of a mile from the transit center would see their values boosted by $3.7 billion ($3.1 billion for existing developments and $580 million for new development) thanks to “proximity to transit, open space and other neighborhood amenities.”

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Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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