San Francisco’s waterfront is steeped in history and continues to change along with the city itself. Originally used for shipping, San Francisco’s Embarcadero served as the center for trade during the 19th century and expanded as the Port was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire. During World War II, the city’s waterfront served as a main port of debarkation for members of the military going to the South Pacific. In 1958, the Embarcadero Freeway was built over the Port’s truck and rail corridor as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plan to modernize automobile transportation. However, by the mid-1960s containerization resulted in most shipping activities to be relocated to the city’s southern waterfront and Oakland.
In 1989, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake caused severe damage to the Embarcadero Freeway, necessitating its removal. While demolition occurred in the wake of tragedy, the freeway’s removal provided the city with an opportunity to transform the Embarcadero and spurred an era of revitalization that continues today.
As land that the freeway had once occupied became available, new development brought with it housing, retail, office space and a grand pedestrian promenade. Over the past two decades, vibrant new neighborhoods such as South Beach have emerged, and several other projects continue to transform the area into one of the most lively and visited parts of the city.
Breaking ground in 1997 at Third and King streets, Pacific Bell Park, now called AT&T Park, has been a linchpin in the waterfront’s transformation. Home to the two-time World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park was the first MLB ballpark to be built without public funds, and to be awarded a LEED Silver Certification. Today the park serves as a widely used venue not just for baseball, but also for other sporting events and entertainment attractions.
“Over the past 13 years, AT&T Park has served as an anchor to the southern waterfront,” said Mario Alioto, Senior Vice President, Business Operations for the San Francisco Giants. “It has become a year-round community gathering point and has been a catalyst for development in the neighborhood.”
The Exploratorium’s recent move to Piers 15 and 17 delivered another key attraction to San Francisco’s waterfront. Previously located at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium’s new nine-acre campus opened in May 2013 with triple the capacity, now big enough to accommodate 1 million paid visitors per year. The new location not only provides easier access to the museum, but it also created 1.5 acres of new public open space on the historic waterfront.
"We can't imagine a better place to be than here on the Embarcadero, the crown of San Francisco, accessible via every major public transportation line and along one of the city's most visited pedestrian corridors,” said Dennis Bartles, Executive Director of the Exploratorium.
“As an educational institution dedicated to awareness of the world around us, we welcome the fact that more and more visitors will be interacting with our exhibits or enjoying the outdoor exhibits on the new public square in between Piers 15 and 17 that we have created. It means that the Exploratorium and the all the educational opportunities it has to offer is even more woven in the city's landscape than ever before.”
While the waterfront has undergone many changes over the last two decades, several additional projects are currently under development and will continue to contribute to the area’s revitalization.
Next to open is the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal cruise ship terminal on Pier 27. Developed in coordination with the facilities that hosted the 34th America’s Cup in 2013, the new terminal will convert the existing 10-acre pier into a vibrant year-round cruise terminal, public plaza and community facility that meets security and passenger handling demands of the cruise industry, while also allowing for public recreation and special event uses.
“The new terminal will give our visitors one of the most spectacular gateways to a city anywhere in the world,” said Monique Moyer, Executive Director for the Port of San Francisco. “They will be greeted with views of the amazing San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower and the iconic Transamerica Pyramid, a vista that is unduplicated anywhere in the world.”
The Golden State Warriors are planning a San Francisco comeback, actively working on plans for a new state-of-the-art basketball arena and entertainment venue scheduled to open in time for the 2017-18 NBA season. Located south of the Bay Bridge at Piers 30-32, the $1 billion privately financed development will rebuild the aging piers and create thousands of new jobs, while delivering an 18,000-seat multipurpose facility that will host NBA games, concerts, conventions and other events.
“Somehow San Francisco is the only city with over 500,000 people without a world-class venue like we are proposing,” said Rick Welts, President & COO of the Golden State Warriors “This is a truly unique arena design that celebrates San Francisco.”
Further south along the waterfront, the San Francisco Giants and the Port of San Francisco are moving forward with plans for the city’s newest waterfront neighborhood, Mission Rock. Located on Seawall Lot 337 and Pier 48, the $1.6 billion, 27-acre project will be one of the largest urban mixed-use projects in the nation. The project includes up to 1,000 rental apartments, 1.7 million square feet of office space, 125,000 square feet of shops and local retail and a spectacular bayside park.
“The Mission Rock Project will become another exciting waterfront destination that will create tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for the city,” added Alioto.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is supporting these and other projects helping to revitalize the city’s waterfront through BuildSF, a new initiative to advance economy-boosting development throughout San Francisco. Formed in 2013, the council of builders, contractors, engineers and architects meets regularly to discuss a project’s impact on the city, including its sustainability, economic development opportunities and its effect on transportation infrastructure and housing.
"BuildSF has convened the best minds in the industry to review, support and optimize the economic value of San Francisco's current development boom,” said Shelley Doran, senior vice president, Webcor Builders and chair of the Chamber's newly formed BuildSF Council.
San Francisco’s historic waterfront has experienced tremendous transformation – from working piers, to freeway, to iconic promenade. The removal of the Embarcadero Freeway spurred a waterfront resurgence that has allowed the area to become one of the most iconic – and visited – sections of the city today. Exciting projects in the pipeline will continue to transform the waterfront - along with the city - for years to come.