World-famous architect eyed for SoMa tower project

World-renowned architect Renzo Piano is the frontrunner to design one of the tallest skyscrapers in The City — an 850-foot tower in an area city planners have targeted for denser and taller development.

Piano, who designed the current rebuild of the San Francisco Academy of Sciences, has been in talks with David Choo, president of San Francisco-based California Mortgage and Realty, over designing an 850-foot building for the northwest corner of Mission and First streets — adjacent to the Transbay Terminal.

The company has been purchasing parcels in this area, with a most recent purchase of 51 First St. for $25 million.

Supervisor Chris Daly mentioned Piano’s interest in designing the tower during a Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meeting, when its five members supported moving forward with the $1 billion Transbay Terminal rebuild despite still needing $2 billion to bring high-speed rail to the terminal.

The approval paves the way for one of the largest public works projects in The City’s history, one which will revolutionize the face of transportation in the Bay Area by putting regional buses, Muni, BART and Caltrain under one roof.

Daly said the unanimous vote Friday morning put the $4 billion Transbay Terminal redevelopment project “back on track.” The board is optimistic that if it moves forward with the terminal the needed $2 billion will follow for high-speed rail.

The board’s vote also supported building a 1,000-foot tower near the transit terminal and kicked off an international competition to design both the terminal and the tower.

The high heights were recommended by The City’s Planning Department as a means to generate much-needed revenue for the project and to improve the 40-acre redevelopment area surrounding the Transbay Terminal.

In addition to the transit tower, the department also recommended a tower of at least 850 feet on the mortgage company’s site and another tower of similar height on a publicly-owned parcel at Howard Street between First and Second streets.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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