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SF Port studies opening hotel on Pier 35, despite ban

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The Port of San Francisco has hired a consultant to study the possibility of building a hotel at Pier 35, which would require the lifting of a ban on hotels that passed in 1990. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Nearly three decades after voters banned hotel construction on piers along the waterfront, the Port of San Francisco has hired a consultant to study the possibility of opening a hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf.

While the consultant found that a hotel could financially benefit the Port and fit at the bulkhead building on Pier 35, the question remains as to whether San Francisco voters would be willing to repeal the ban passed in 1990 in response to the Port’s “desire for rampant hotel construction” at the time.

A poll over Memorial Day weekend found that just 17 percent of San Francisco voters surveyed would support a ballot measure to repeal the ban on luxury hotel construction along the shoreline. In comparison, 71 percent of the 561 voters surveyed said they would oppose the measure.

Port spokesperson Renee Dunn Martin said there are no plans to push for a measure that would allow developers to once again build luxury hotels on the piers of San Francisco, but others are not convinced.

Jon Golinger, a political consultant with a history of opposing waterfront development, said feasibility studies released in recent months are signs that the Port is interested in repealing the ban under 1990’s Proposition H.

“There is no question there is interest from the Port in potentially doing this,” said Golinger. “That said, I think they are genuinely trying to gauge whether or not this is a realistic possibility or an idea.”

The Port hired a group of consultants to perform economic and historic feasibility studies for building a 200-room hotel on two floors inside the bulkhead building at Pier 35 as a “sample pier,” according to Martin.

Port staff has presented the studies since March to a committee reviewing the Waterfront Land Use Plan of 1990 as one way to fund the rehabilitation of the historic piers. The plan specifically includes a ban on hotels on public property within 100 feet of the shoreline.

“The Port has no position on hotel use on piers at this time, but did want to solicit public comment and feedback about whether hotels should be further explored as a possible use for piers, and any conditions that should apply,” Martin said in an email.

Nan Roth, an 82-year-old North Beach resident who funded last weekend’s poll from Public Policy Polling, pushed for the ban on waterfront hotels in 1990 as a member of the original committee overseeing the Waterfront Land Use Plan.

“The Port even back then wanted very badly to build hotels,” said Roth. “It was a tough fight.”

Voters just barely approved the plan at the time under Prop. H, with 50.4 percent of votes in favor that November.

James R. Herman, Port Commission president at the time, wrote the dissenting argument.

Roth said she decided to fund the poll because “before turning this thing into a huge brouhaha, it would be a good idea to see where the voter is on the issue.”

The Port is already expected to join Mayor Ed Lee in asking voters to approve a $350 million bond in November 2018 for urgent seawall repairs.

“I have been frustrated that much more money and attention has been spent on pursuing this hotel idea, which is currently illegal, rather than on other ideas that are currently not,” said Golinger.

None of the four waterfront hotels in San Francisco are on piers. While there is a separate proposal to build a hotel on Port property, the hotel would be across the Embarcadero.

Teatro ZinZanni, a dinner theater and circus forced off the waterfront ahead of the 2013 America’s Cup, is part of plans to build a hotel on the parking lot at Broadway and Embarcadero.

The Waterfront Plan Land Use subcommittee is expected to continue discussions on the hotel use of piers today.

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