The Ferry Building’s main parking lot, 70-year-old Pier ½, is tilting into the Bay. Its wood pilings are rotting and the foundation is riddled with cracks. The Port of San Francisco shut down the 100-car lot parking pier at the north end of the Ferry Building on July 3 as an imminent hazard.
If anything finally gives the public a wake-up call about the late-stage decrepitude of the waterfront that once was The City’s pride, this should be it. Losing the parking used by hundreds of daily patrons could soon bring substantial losses to Ferry Building businesses and local growers at the popular Saturday farmers market.
It is only the immediacy of the pier’s sudden closure that should be any surprise. For years, Port officials warned that refurbishing the 30 crumbling piers along the 7½-mile waterfront would cost at least $1 billion. The price tag for fixing Pier ½ is approximately $3.6 million, but the pier was scheduled for demolition in a few years. An expensive repair may not be justified, which leaves the Ferry Building’s merchants and customers in limbo.
The Port of San Francisco receives no money from The City and must rely on revenues from leasing its properties. The $100 million Ferry Building renovation five years ago was a big success, attracting 15,000 weekday customers to its new shops and restaurants and 25,000 at the Saturday farmers markets. Pier ½ is rented to the Ferry Building for just $43,000 per year.
To their credit, Port officials do keep trying, although with obviously limited funds on hand, they can only achieve limited success. The Port has a long-term development plan that pushed through numerous smaller-scale commercial, open-space and maritime-improvement projects.
To date, the Port’s biggest wins in public-private partnerships are the Ferry Building, Pier 1 and AT&T Park. But some of the most ambitious mixed-use projects proposed by private developers never got off the drawing board.
Considering all the formidable obstacles to getting anything built along the waterfront, it is praiseworthy that anything is ever constructed at all. Overlapping federal, state and city approvals must be obtained, and environmental demands are daunting. Neighbors raise standard concerns about excess noise, traffic and crowds, blocked views and established businesses facing excess competition.
A quick fix proposed for replacing the closed parking pier is to make a parking lot out of the large space behind the Ferry Building, which holds the farmers market. But that space would need to be rezoned for parking and the farmers market would need relocation.
Accomplishing more than patchwork solutions to the Port’s long-term problems would probably require a particularly tough-minded waterfront czar, someone willing to seize authoritarian powers in ways that would be anathema to the reality of today’s