Struggling Port tenants eligible for rent forgiveness, relief

Businesses say ‘it’s never been this dire for us’

The Red and White Fleet — a fourth-generation family-owned tourism business — has weathered the 1906 earthquake, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and a tourism downturn after September 11, 2001.

“But it’s never been this dire for us,” said Tyler Foster, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Since the shelter-in-place order in March, The Red and White Fleet, which offers sightseeing tours of the Bay, has remained largely shut down, losing millions of dollars lost in revenue and missing out on the peak summer months of tourism.

In May, the business took another hit when a fire destroyed its office and maintenance equipment.

A rent forgiveness program unanimously approved by the San Francisco Port Commission on Tuesday may provide much needed reprieve. The program will forgive rent for tenants for periods ranging from 3 to 14 months, with 196 tenants eligible for the program. In all, officials expect to forgive about $13 million in rent.

While the majority of the leases can now be amended, roughly 32 would require legislation with the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

“They’re making this gesture to basically allow us the oxygen to get to the other side,” Foster said.

The first category of tenants eligible for the program includes retail, restaurants, maritime excursion firms, and parking operators. Forty-eight businesses in this category are eligible for rent forgiveness from March 1 to April 30, 2021, or until the businesses make sufficient sales for three months consecutively to cover rent. While the Port will forgive their base rent, it will still take its cut of the business’ profit.

“The Port’s decision here on rent forgiveness not only shows a sense of empathy and understanding to the struggling tenants, and endangered working people, but I also believe it’s a decision based on wisdom and good business sense from the Port’s perspective because it helps secure existing tenants rather than allowing them to potentially fail and leave a series of voids on the waterfront,” said Robert Estrada, regional director of Inlandboatmen’s Union of Pacific, Marine Division of International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The union represents about 300 workers in the San Francisco region, mainly deckhands, but also captains and ticket sellers.

Some of the Port’s bigger tenants like the Ferry Building, Pier 39, Oracle Park and others are not eligible for the program.

Maritime tenants such as fishers, crabbers and fish processors are another category of tenants eligible for rent forgiveness, with 121 tenants in this category. They are also eligible for rent relief from March 1 through August 31.

The third group includes small business enterprises such as small engineering and construction firms. The 27 tenants in this category are eligible for rent forgiveness from March 1 through May 31.

“If this can be held up as a model for other city departments, it would be pretty fantastic,” Foster said.

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