Plans could bring life to Alcatraz

Time-weathered, long-abandoned buildings on Alcatraz Island would be refurbished and reborn as souvenir stands, hotels and special-event space in an effort to increase tourism to the popular island, in the latest plan to reshape the iconic landmark.

The rocky outcrop has provided fodder for fanciful proposals since its infamous penitentiary was shuttered in 1963. Over the years, failed plans included a casino, a new prison, a bird sanctuary and a global peace center.

The latest proposal is being championed by the federal agency that runs the landmark-listed island in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

“It’s definitely one of the prime destinations for tourists who visit San Francisco,” GGNRA Planning Chief Nancy Hornor said. “But it’s also a site where many other people could enjoy the island, and not just for its history — it has fantastic views in all directions.”

Under each of three proposed development scenarios, which will be outlined ata public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Fort Mason Center, the huge and dilapidated barracks building between the prison and the pier would become a new island centerpiece. Plans show that parts of the former barracks building would serve as a hotel or hostel for overnight visitors, while other sections might house shops, a post office, meeting and function rooms, classrooms and restaurants.

Outlying buildings would be rebuilt or gutted and refurbished for use as special-events venues, restrooms, kitchens and exhibition spaces, plans show.

While the first proposal is focused on improving visitor amenities, a second focuses on boosting ecotourism to the island and a third would have visitors “immersed in … the federal penitentiary’s history” by recreating an atmosphere of confinement and observation, according to the GGNRA proposal.

The island is visited by 1.4 million people every year, according to Tegan Firth, spokeswoman for Hornblower Cruises, which contracts with the GGNRA to ship roughly 300 tourists at a time from San Francisco to The Rock.

The plans also include proposed wildlife buffer zones ranging up to 300 feet off its coast.

Decisions about the future of the island, which hosts rare breeding colonies of cormorants, gulls, guillemots and oystercatchers, rest with the Director of the National Parks Service, according to GGNRA spokesman Michael Feinstein.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

Three plans for The Rock

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area has drafted three scenarios for Alcatraz Island’s future: 

Connecting People with the Parks: People could visit most of the island’s historic buildings, landscapes and natural resources. Visitors would follow trails through the island’s ecosystems all year around. Gull populations would be managed to prevent conflicts with tourist operations.

Preserving and Enjoying Coastal Ecosystems: Some of the buildings would be preserved, while weather and wildlife would overrun the rest. Most of the shoreline would be preserved to protect natural habitat. A 300-foot-wide marine reserve would ring most of the island

Focusing on National Treasures: The island’s buildings would undergo extensive stabilization, rehabilitation and restoration. Prison-themed ferries would help showcase the island’s history. A trail linking the island’s landmarks would close down during bird-breeding season.

Source: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

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