Piers 30-32 on the Embarcadero are big, flat, money pits. Estimates just to teardown the sprawling, decaying parking lots run to $40 million.
To update them – drive new pilings and make them safe – would cost $80 million-$100 million.
The city doesn’t have that kind of money. Voters surely won’t approve a bond measure for that much and investors have made it clear they are not interested.
And we blew it.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, a former investment banker, still can’t believe it.
“It was very disappointing. That absolutely could have been done,” Farrell said. “Instead, we did the typical City Hall dance. Rake them over the coals, squeeze them. And they pulled out.”
Some members of the Board of Supervisors were convinced that Ellison had “no Plan B.” They thought that he was determined to snooker the city. Or that he had no other location for pit row, the staging area for the Cup sailboat teams. In talks, the supervisors kept asking for one concession after another.
Finally the word came last weekend – forget the deal. Ellison was out. The teams would stage at Pier 80, where the Oracle group is already dug in, and 30-32 could sit in the wind and waves until they fell into the bay.
“Here we had an opportunity to have someone come in to contribute the up-front capital we don’t have – and will never have – in exchange for rent credit,” Farrell said. “I think it was a real blown opportunity.”
Now comes the finger-pointing. Supervisor John Avalos, who expressed concerns about the deal, says that is predictable.
“People always want to assign blame and where does blame typically go?” Avalos said in a text. “To the elected officials overseeing the public approval process. How can doing our due diligence – asking questions – make us deserving of blame?”
Avalos says that an agreement would have passed easily in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. But the infinite hair-splitting that is typical of development discussions in the city soured Ellison. After all, he’d have to return to the board for more approvals before he could build anything on the piers he’d paid to renovate.
“And I think there was zero confidence that we wouldn’t take another pound of flesh at that point,” Farrell said.
Granted, there are other factors. Former board President Aaron Peskin, whose lawsuit sought to stop America’s Cup preparations, says others have tried to make the numbers work on the piers and have failed.
He says criticism of the board for killing the deal sounds “like a stretch or a cheap shot. They seemed pretty accommodating to me.”
But there’s theory and there’s the reality. The Ellison group, which was motivated to move forward with the renovation, threw up its hands and backed out. The result is that 30-32 is another San Francisco project, like the long-vacant Pagoda Theater in North Beach, where potential investors are treated as enemies.
“I am the first to say we shouldn’t give away valuable land,” Farrell said. “But the only way to do this is a public-private partnership. I think this is a real wake-up call.”
Hopefully that’s true. The word is some of the supervisors were shocked when Ellison pulled the plug. But it’s too late to save the deal now.
- Piers 30 And 32 Won’t Get Makeovers In Downsized America’s Cup Deal (sfist.com)
- 34th America’s Cup Race: All Hands On Deck! America’s Cup Deal Listing to Starboard, Condos Walk The Plank and Buried Treasure Proves Elusive (sf.curbed.com)