A rendering shows a new cafe at Pier 31 and a retail and visitor station planned at Pier 33 as part of a new 50-year lease to continue Alcatraz Island ferry service through the Port of San Francisco. (Courtesy National Park Service)

SF promises improved ferry service to city’s sixth top visited attraction — Alcatraz

There doesn’t appear to be any naysayers in San Francisco’s plan to improve the experience to Alcatraz — The City’s sixth most visited site – at its current waterfront location.

In a proposed term sheet introduced by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the National Park Service — which oversees Alcatraz — and the Port of San Francisco would enter into a long term agreement to continue ferry service to the former prison.

SEE RELATED: Alcatraz Island ferry service receives pardon to remain at Pier 31½

The agreement includes making multi-million dollar improvements to the current ferry embarkation area between Piers 31 and 33, both structural and for user experience.
That’s good news for at least one Board of Supervisors member.

“I finally first visited Alcatraz this past year for the first time as a San Francisco native – I know embarrassing,” Supervisor Katy Tang said during Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on the proposal. “But I do remember my experience just waiting in line and just seeing a hot dog stand. I don’t eat hot dogs. I think it will be a wonderful experience after these improvements are made.”

The committee approved the term sheet. A full board vote is expected Nov. 29.

The National Park Service has operated the ferry service from the Port to Alcatraz Island since 1973. In 2009, the federal agency was exploring a more permanent deal, and one idea that was floated as late as last year explored moving the current location to Fort Mason but residents in the area there met the plan with criticism for possible increases to both water and land traffic.

The plans to improve the existing ferry location was praised by Jon Ballesteros, senior official with the San Francisco Travel Association, a tourism promotion group.

Ballesteros noted that San Francisco’s local economy benefits from 24.6 million visitors annually who spend $9.3 billion, which amounts to “$1.1 million of every hour every day” and supports 76,500 jobs.

“One of the top attractions in San Francisco is obviously Alcatraz Island. In fact, it is the sixth most visited destination in San Francisco with 19 percent of all visitors that come to San Francisco visiting the island. Easy access is vitally important to maintaining the island’s attractiveness.”

The deal calls for the Port to “make substructure improvements to Pier 31 at an estimated cost of $5 million,” according to a report by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.

“The private ferry contractor and the [Golden Gate National Parks] Conservancy will make improvements with an estimated value of $20.7 million, and receive rent credits totaling $3,074,000.”

The agreement would be a 30-year term plus two 10-year options for extension.

“The ferry contractor selected by the National Park Service will be responsible for the construction, maintenance and repair to ferry barges, docks and waterside infrastructure, marginal wharf deck surface, and visitor and other facilities used by the ferry contractor,” Rose’s report states. “The Conservancy will be responsible for the construction, maintenance and repair on Pier 31 bulkhead improvements and Pier 33 visitor center.”

According to the term sheet, there would be a “new cafe in the Pier 31 bulkhead, a retail and visitor contact station in the Pier 33 bulkhead, an additional ferry berth at Pier 31 1/2 (bringing the total number of berths at the marginal wharf to three).”

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy would “build out and operate or manage the cafe, retail, and interpretative portions of the site.”

Jay Edwards, the Port of San Francisco senior property manager, said the agreement was “quite attractive economically for the Port and The City with over $3 million of revenue to be generated based on assumptions about gross receipts.”

The full board will vote Nov. 29 on the term sheet.
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