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With Salesforce Transit Center's Opening Nearing, Transbay Joint Powers Authority Focuses On Next Phase: High-Speed Rail

At the start of the economic recovery, San Francisco’s Transbay District was speckled with underused parking lots and very few options for housing and offices. Now, the neighborhood holds the city’s largest office and mixed-use towers, residential high-rises and 100K SF of retail at the $2.4B Salesforce Transit Center that will soon open.

Crews work on Saleforce Park in May

Salesforce Transit Center has become a reality that generated a building boom in that area,” Transbay Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Mark Zabaneh said. “The minute the developers saw the transit center under construction, they started developing the parcels.”

The Aug. 11 opening of the transit center’s rooftop park, Salesforce Park, marks the end of the center's initial transformation. The bus terminal will open to full operations on Aug. 12.

“It’s going to be a really significant achievement that surpassed expectations,” Zabaneh said. “The park is a big attraction. There is very limited quality public space and the park provides 5.4 acres of really quality public space.”

He said there has been a lot of enthusiasm for the rooftop park and the most-asked question has been about the park’s opening date.

Transbay Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Mark Zabaneh and Arup group leader Aidan Hughes at a Bisnow event

The grand opening signals the start of Phase 2 for the agency, and focus is shifting toward bringing in high-speed rail and the beginning of the end of a more than 10-year journey to turn an underused bus terminal into an intermodal transit hub serving millions of people each year.

In 2006, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority started a design competition for what was then known as the Grand Central Station of the West. Designer Pelli Clarke Pelli won the competition and designed the center with a rooftop park. PWP Landscape Architecture designed the park with 13 different gardens.

Despite the recession hitting in the middle of the planning process, the agency remained optimistic, Zabaneh said. By the time the center was ready for construction, the recovery was just beginning.

A New Neighborhood Rises

Salesforce Tower in San Francisco

During the early years of the recovery, the San Francisco Planning Department created the Transit Center District Plan and Transbay Redevelopment Plan, allowing for the creation of a transit hub, zoning changes and raising building heights in the area south of Market Street bounded by Embarcadero and Folsom and Hawthorne streets.

The plans involved creating over 6M SF of office and commercial space and adding about 4,400 units of housing, about 1,000 new hotel rooms and 100K SF of retail.

Since then, developers have delivered several large office towers. Many large leases also have been signed, including Facebook’s two leases for the entire 755K SF Park Tower and the entire 436K SF of office space at 181 Fremont, and Salesforce’s tenancy at Salesforce Tower. Related California also recently topped off a residential condo and apartment tower that will have over 500 units.

In addition to buying the naming rights for Salesforce Tower, Salesforce also bought the naming rights for the transit center and park for $110M in 2017.

Rezoning allowed for more retail to come into the area, which didn’t have a lot of retail previously, Zabaneh said.

Buses at Saleforce Transit Center

The TJA has been actively leasing the retail portion of the transit center with the help of Colliers International and has secured several leases to fill up 43% of the 100K SF of retail, he said. Future tenants include Fitness SF, which will open a 34K SF gym on the second floor, Onsite Dental and Philz Coffee. About 40 pop-up retailers, from food vendors to clothing stores, will be in the space before the permanent shops open.

It took the agency awhile to approve leases for prospective tenants since prospects wanted to walk through the space, which wasn’t ready for walk-throughs. When the retail center was more built out a few months ago, tenants were able to see the space and finalized their leases.

The next phase will include bringing high-speed rail to the center, Zabaneh said. The agency’s aggressive plan is to be shovel-ready in a little over three years. He said the $4B Phase 2's funding plan will need additional work and refinement, but the agency does have a funding plan in place.

Construction is expected to start in late 2020 with the tracks ready for trains in early 2028, he said. With high-speed rail expected to reach Fourth and King by 2029, getting the center ready for high-speed rail would allow trains to go straight to the center initially instead of stopping at Fourth and King, he said.

“The whole team is very excited about [the opening of Salesforce Transit Center],” Zabaneh said. “We’re also excited about our second phase of the program."

A New Focal Point

Rendering of Transbay Transit Center rooftop park

While the TJPA works on bringing in high-speed rail, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures will work on bringing more people into the newly opened park. The park will serve as a main entertainment feature for the district and several buildings, including 181 Fremont and Salesforce Tower, offer direct access via pedestrian bridge to the park. 

“The park is going to be something spectacular for the city,” Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Director, San Francisco Office Ashley Langworthy said. “I don’t think there’s anything like it in San Francisco and certainly not in this area.”

BRV was hired to manage and operate the new park and will oversee programming, events, marketing and revenue development. It is part of the management team led by Lincoln Property Co. that the TJPA hired to run the new park.

The park will have 13 different gardens, a great lawn with trees, movable chairs and tables, an 800-seat amphitheater for concerts and performances, a half-mile jogging track and a restaurant.

BRV has planned to have something happening every day, Langworthy said. Typical programming may include yoga, exercise classes, cultural events, nighttime movies, chess, reading rooms, art shows, children’s programming and concerts.

The park is going to appeal to different people, many of whom may come on a Saturday afternoon to an area that is typically dead on the weekends, she said.

“It will bring a lot more urban vibrancy and a real city feel to this neighborhood,” she said.