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Political notable Clint Reilly exploring museum, hotel at Piers 30 and 32

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Pier 30 is seen along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Calif. Friday, January 5, 2018. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The Warriors stadium. The George Lucas Museum. James R. Herman Cruise Terminal.

Ambitious ideas for new developments at the picturesque Seawall Lot 330 and the nearby Piers 30 and 32 have come and gone like sea breeze, their failure symbolized by the humble parking lot sitting atop those crumbling piers.

Now, a proposal for a new development at Piers 30 and 32 — in the earliest of stages — is being explored by a local real estate magnate who is also a former political consultant and former mayoral candidate.

Clint Reilly is testing the waters on a proposal to build a “San Francisco Experience” museum on Piers 30 and 32, with an accompanying tower hotel on Seawall Lot 330, according to documents obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Reilly’s preliminary proposal was shown to Mayor Ed Lee on Dec. 11, the day he suffered a heart attack, the Examiner confirmed. Lee’s private, 4:30 p.m. City Hall meeting with Reilly to review the proposal may have been among his last duties as mayor of San Francisco. Lee died at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in the early morning hours of Dec. 12.

The Examiner exclusively obtained Reilly’s presentation documents and accompanying analysis of the piers, conducted by engineering firm AECOM, through a source who wished not to be identified.

The plan was shown to no more than 10 people and was not submitted to any public agencies to initiate approval processes, Reilly said.

Reilly clarified that his proposal is only in a “due diligence” phase to float to a few key parties, to see if his idea has any hope of revitalizing the piers — which he described as his key motivation in developing the plan.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my business here in San Francisco,” he said of Clint Reilly Holdings, a family of real estate and hospitality firms. “If I can do something for The City I’m excited to do that.”

In his Dec. 11 letter to Lee, Reilly described his “core idea” for Piers 30 and 32 is “The San Francisco Experience” or “The Bay Area Experience,” a paid admission venue highlighting major chapters in the Bay Area’s history.

Those “chapters” include exhibits dedicated to the “founding” of San Francisco Bay by Sir Francis Drake, the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, the music of the Bay Area such as the Grateful Dead and Tupac Shakur, the “birth of the protest movement,” local food, local sports, the nearby Sonoma Wine Country, and Silicon Valley.

Though Reilly’s letter to Lee focuses mostly on his museum proposal, it briefly mentions his hotel proposal. Reilly wrote, “The Seawall Lot presents an opportunity to recoup the costs of underpinning the piers,” which is estimated by the Port of San Francisco to be $102 million.

The hotel is, Reilly wrote, “a necessary piece to making this idea pencil financially.” A report developed by AECOM pegs the hotel tower’s height between 150 to 160 feet.

While that’s nowhere near the soaring 1,070 feet of Salesforce Tower, it may be enough to trigger a political battle and potential vote under Proposition B, which requires voter approval of developments exceeding height limits along the waterfront. Seawall lot 330 has a height limit of 105 feet.

Reilly later told the Examiner the height stated in the AECOM report is far from final, and called it a “very” preliminary analysis “utilizing the competence and research of AECOM,” a firm that has a long history researching that particular site.

During their Dec. 11 meeting, Lee did not endorse the project, nor did he say it was a bad idea, Reilly said, but “he was quintessential Ed Lee” and asked pointed, knowledgeable questions.

In the end, Reilly said the mayor wanted to “let the Port make this decision.”

In a Thursday interview, Port of San Francisco Executive Director Elaine Forbes told the Examiner the Port has no formal request from Reilly on record.

“You’re bringing this to us for the first time,” she said, when presented with the AECOM planning document, though she heard “some talk about this project” in early December.

Forbes said any development pitches would need to wait. A citizen-led Waterfront Working Group is on the cusp of finishing a plan on how the Port should treat “unsolicited” development proposals, she said, which may go before the Port Commission in February. She also cautioned that it’s an “incredibly challenging” site to develop.

“It’s incredibly expensive, incredibly hard to permit,” she said.

Prior proposed projects at the site have either met fierce opposition, or been considered infeasible due to the cost of repairing the piers. An analysis from the Port found the piers went from 1950 until 2013 without significant structural repair, and the seawall underneath Piers 30 and 32 is in need of significant repair.

“The piers have long since survived beyond their anticipated design life,” which was 50 years, according to the Port report. The “remaining useful life” of the piers are estimated at six years.

The cost to revitalize the piers is now pegged at $102 million, according to the Port.

“The estimates for reconstructing that pier keep ballooning,” said Jasper Rubin, a former San Francisco city planner of 13 years, and author of “A Negotiated Landscape,” which chronicles the history of San Francisco’s waterfront development.

Rubin is also a member of the Waterfront Plan working group, as is Jon Golinger, a local political activist who spearheaded Proposition B, the “No wall on the Waterfront” campaign.

“Good planning should drive waterfront development, not developers,” Golinger said of Reilly’s proposal. “Updating the waterfront plan should come first.”

Responding to those concerns, Reilly told the Examiner, “this idea is a long way” from concrete planning stages. “I, like a lot of folks, have been watching the rise and fall of proposals [at Piers 30 and 32] for years,” he said, but “it’s a very important site for The City. It’s an iconic site.”

The piers have very few years of life left before they deteriorate into the Bay, Reilly added.

“Something is going to have to be done.”

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