Power plant casts shadow over pier’s revival

A plan for the dilapidated Pier 70 shipyard south of Mission Bay seems simple: Clean up the contaminated 65-acre site; rebuild dozens of historic buildings; continue a growing ship repair operation relied upon by The City’s growing cruise ship industry; create 20 acres of open space including two shoreline parks; and construct more than 3 million square feet of commercial building space.

However, recent political flip-flopping about the closure of the neighboring Mirant Corp.-owned power plant threatens the billion-dollar redevelopment that is expected to revive a waterfront that once was home to one of the largest ship-building operations in the West.

The waterfront Mirant plant was scheduled to shutter as soon as 2010 under a $2 million redevelopment agreement reached last year between company officials and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Mirant’s redevelopment efforts would have coordinated with the proposed Pier 70 redevelopment.

However, political wrangling regarding an expensive and long-term proposal to build and operate replacement city-owned fossil-fuel-burning plants in the Bayview and at the airport recently prompted Newsom to backtrack. He and other city officials are now supporting the continued operation of the Mirant plant.

Newsom’s new plan has the plant partly closed, partly refurbished, and operating until a new energy source is available.

The mayor’s unexpected support to keep the Mirant plant open has “put a wrench” in Pier 70 redevelopment plans because the waterfront plant reduces economic development opportunities, said Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents the area.

The presence of the plant decreases the property value of Pier 70 acreage, as well as the ability to attract private developers to build the commercial space, according to Maxwell and others working of the project. And lower property value translates into lower percentage of taxes collected, money that is redirected into the Pier 70 redevelopment.

A Maxwell-proposed ballot initiative to provide funding for some of the development of Pier 70, including environmental cleanup and infrastructure upgrades through bonds and taxes, is due before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

If the plant continues to operate, the main generator and smokestack will be switched off, said Rich Hillis, a deputy director in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Joe Boss, a member of various neighborhood and power plant advisory groups, said The City would “hit a home run” if the power plant is closed and the land is developed in tandem with Pier 70 redevelopment efforts.

The economic impact if the plant continues operating is “hard to quantify,” said Boss, who has served as a spokesman for would-be Bayfront developer Build Inc. on a separate project. “But it’s at least a 35 percent loss of development opportunities.”

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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