It’s almost as if the James R. Herman Cruise Ship terminal dropped out of the stratosphere onto San Francisco’s waterfront, ready to receive its first cruise-wear ensconced visitors.
Just a year ago, that same spot at Pier 27 was the home of an artificial soccer field and scores of clowns running around inside Teatro Zinzanni.
But in what might seem like a blink of the eye, the sleek, shape-shifter of a modern cruise terminal is ready for its ceremonial ribbon cutting. Credit the quick turnaround to the folks at the America’s Cup yacht race.
“I think the America’s Cup helped us get to the finish line,” said Peter Dailey, Maritime Director for the Port of San Francisco.
The idea of building a new cruise ship terminal has blown around San Francisco for 25 years. And though the $80 million dollar project was edging closer to reality, it took the America’s Cup organization to blow the final gust into the city’s sail.
“I think it’ll be a great economic boom,” said Dailey, “and a legacy really of the America’s Cup.”
The prestigious yacht race has already tweaked the city’s waterfront almost as drastically as when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake smashed up the old Central Freeway running along the Embarcadero.
The America’s Cup Authority is planning an outdoor amphitheater and race village to go with the new terminal, which it will initially use as its headquarters until the racing is completed in the Fall.
Once the America’s Cup moves out, the city will install a new waterfront park. The terminal is expected to receive its first cruise ship around the first quarter of 2014.
“Physically, the terminal will be able to accommodate today’s large ships,” said Dailey, “and the future generation of large cruise ships that are being built.”
While the terminal isn’t expected to attract more cruise ships, tourism industry insiders said it will accommodate larger ships, carrying more people.
“We’ll have additional passengers arriving and departing at the port and the new terminal,” said Tom Kiely of San Francisco Travel, which tracks the city’s tourism industry. “That’s what’s really important for our visitor numbers.”
Kiely said San Francisco hosts 17 million visitors a year, but only 200 thousand arrive on cruise ships. Still, the agency has already begun marketing the new terminal to the cruise industry, with hopes of drawing more visitors.
Currently, cruise ship passengers board vessels at Pier 35, which was built in 1914. The vast maritime shed is decorated with artificial turf and a few plants in an attempt to add a few pleasant visual cues for arriving and departing passengers. In contrast, the new terminal is a sleek state-of-the-art facility which the Port will use to host events in between cruise ship visits.
“When you get off the ship and see Coit Tower on your right,” said Dailey, “the Transamerica Building, the Ferry building, it’s going to be great.”
City leaders will cut the ribbon on the completion of the first phase of the terminal on Tuesday afternoon. And promptly hand the keys over to the America’s Cup Authority on March first.