San Francisco’s Pier 70 is a time capsule of the city’s industrial past. Ninety-six acres of rusted metal buildings sit like an industrial purgatory on the city’s southeast waterfront, like hulking ghosts of the days when thousands of maritime workers would flood the area every day.
With the exception of the ship repair company BAE, a storage business and a handful of artists, the once-bustling neighborhood is these days devoid of life.
“Today it sits empty,” said Kelly Pretzer of developer Forest City, “and there is no public access.”
But the floodwaters of change are poised to come rushing back into this strip of historic buildings at 20th and Illinois Streets. The Port of San Francisco has lined up a contingent of developers ready to rehabilitate old warehouses and metal sheds and bring the area back to life. Historic cranes on Illinois will become the centerpiece of the new Crane Cove Park. Orton Development is about to break ground on a $100 million dollar restoration of the row of historic buildings on 20th.
Closer to the waterfront, developer Forest City is several years away from kicking off work on a 28-acre site that will see the restoration of three historic buildings, 2,000 units of housing, plus the building of a new artist building and a sweeping nine-acre waterfront park.
“I think this area will really become a gem along San Francisco’s waterfront,” said Pretzer, standing on the roof of the Noonan building, one of the few buildings in the area that will be torn down to make way for new structures.
But before Forest City’s plans can move forward, the project must get the stamp of approval from city voters.
Last year, San Francisco voters passed Prop B, which requires any waterfront project seeking an exemption to the 40-foot height limits to go on the ballot. The sweeping victory of Prop B was seen as a backlash against the Golden State Warriors' proposal for a waterfront arena, and the proposed Washington 8 luxury condo project. As a result, Forest City must get voter approval before it can seek final city approvals.
“This is the first test of proposition B,” said former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, who served as a major voice speaking out in favor of the Prop B campaign.
But after lashing out at proposals for the Warriors arena and Washington 8 proposals, Agnos is now throwing his support behind the Pier 70 project.
“This is going to be the site of one of the most exciting new, dramatic waterfront parks in all of San Francisco,” Agnos said.
The combined projects will bring new retail, restaurants, housing and even light industrial back to the area. So far, neighborhood groups support the work.
“So the height restrictions are a struggle we all have along the bay,” said Dogpatch neighbor Bruce Huie who supports the plans. “But I think in this capacity, there's a lot of benefit that comes along with that.”
Dogpatch resident Alison Sullivan was excited at the prospect of having public access to the area's waterfront for the first time in over a century.
“I'm raising children in this neighborhood,” Sullivan said. “I would like nothing more than for them to get in touch with the history of where they’re growing up.”
Orton plans to begin work on a half dozen buildings this fall. If voters approve Forest City’s portion of the development, it will still need final city approval in the next two years, gearing up for a 2016 groundbreaking.