San Francisco – After all the projects proposed over the years for San Francisco’s waterfront, one would think city authorities would be asking more questions about the latest proposal for dilapidated Piers 30-32.
Located at the base of the Bay Bridge, with spectacular Bay views, the crumbling 13-acre piers owned by the Port of San Francisco are now used for parking. Built as separate piers in 1912, they were extended in 1926 and linked in 1950 to form a single pad. Since then, at least four plans to fill the area have failed. In 2006, a $360 million deal called the “Bryant Street Pier Project,” called for a cruise terminal, retail and residential developments, and a public park. The $100 million rehabilitation costs for the piers stopped the deal. In 2012, the America’s Cup developers abandoned Piers 30-32 when they reduced the scope of their racing facilities due to the low number of race entries.
Today, the Oakland Warriors Basketball franchise is proposing a privately-funded $500 million stadium for the site. What?
Really, any project would be an improvement over the current parking lot. So, at first glance, the Warrior’s proposal is encouraging. It shows that the sports sector of our economy is confident enough in San Francisco to build a major facility here. Further, the relocation of the Oakland basketball team would offset the loss of the San Francisco 49ers who will be relocating to Santa Clara . [The football franchise just won a lawsuit to keep $30 million of public school funds for their new stadium there.] Mayor Ed Lee recently announced how beneficial the stadium would be for the City – it would rehabilitate an expensive eyesore, provide much-needed jobs and stimulate business for the area. But he might also be back-pedaling from the loss of the America’s Cup Pier proposal as well as the 49ers. . .
A second glance at the Warriors’ project reveals more analysis is needed. Unfortunately, San Francisco officials might not provide any. There has been a lot of positive spin on the basketball proposal, both from city officials and sports enthusiasts. In fact, some proponents sound like the project is a done deal – even if the details are a bit sketchy.
From an urban design point of view, however, locating a huge, enclosed arena on waterside property seems illogical. Not surprisingly, some national and local critics have questioned the spin. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for the New Yorker, in his recent lecture in San Francisco, denounced the plan saying a large basketball arena wasn’t the highest and best use of prime waterfront land. John King, the local critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, also wondered about the project’s appropriateness on our distinctive waterfront promenade. He pointed out that even if it could fit on the 600′ x 900′ parking lot, at 125′ tall, it would be twice the height of anything else between Pier 39 and AT&T Park and would overshadow our beloved Ferry Building.
Really, what does a basketball stadium add to the urban, pedestrian context of the Embarcadero waterfront? If one looks at the Oracle Arena which the Warriors currently occupy, one would have to say, not much. Landlocked amidst freeways, it has little to offer an urban experience. Another question – is bringing thousands of people to an already very dense neighborhood a good idea? A new marina, ferry service, and water taxis are planned as part of the stadium, welcome additions to the region’s bay transit system. But even if the basketball arena expands much-needed water transit facilities, is this environmentally-sensitive area the right place for them?
And even if public amenities, concert shows, and outdoor access are included in the proposal, will the California Lands Commission, BCDC, and the many other oversight bodies conclude waterfront access isn’t blocked? Recently, on just the other side of the Bay Bridge, American Cup developers had to downsize their proposed pier and relocate large yachts to preserve views of the Bay. The project generated lots of controversy and it didn’t even include permanent structures!
One might note that the AT&T Baseball Park down the road has been very successful on the Bay and was a beneficial addition to that neighborhood. But it’s a different animal – an outdoor arena for an outdoor sport. In fact, taking advantage of waterside environs, catching fly balls in McCovey Cove has become one of the City’s most popular boating activities. AT&T Park is also sited less dominantly on land that leads into a creek. Basketball, on the other hand, is an indoor sport, focused on itself, and doesn’t need a prominent nor a waterfront location.
NBC Bay Area reported that if the Warriors are truly set on a San Francisco location, two other sites might be a better fit. The recently abandoned 14-acre property owned by Salesforce would be ideal for this venue as would the land adjacent to AT&T Park. Both sites are in the Mission Bay District to the south where a large arena wouldn’t be out of place, which has public transit, and which needs growth.
So how desperate is San Francisco to rehabilitate Piers 30 & 32? The piers contain some of the best waterfront views in the City, but will they become a cash cow or an extension of our beautiful Embarcadero and Ferry Building? Might city officials even consider removing the piers to restore some daylight to an overcrowded urban edge? Why cover a precious resource like the Bay which should support water-related uses like boating, fishing, and sightseeing? There is plenty of solid earth elsewhere in the City that would be more appropriate for the Warriors’ uses. In this context, erecting a basketball stadium over open water seems like the most ridiculous idea since Gap owner Donald Fisher proposed an art museum in the middle of the Presidio.
1 – Oracle Stadium at Pier 30-32, Watercolor Courtesy Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Arena Development Project, Zendarski Studios
2- America’s Cup, Pier 30-32 Rendering, Courtesy Americas Cup Media
3 – Oracle Stadium from SFO, Wikipedia Commons, Author ‘Cutlass Supreme’
4 – Oracle Arena, Wikipedia, Public Domain