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Navigating Murky Issues On The Water

Developers of Pier 70 and Mission Rock have put in the time and effort to create the right projects for the city, but Prop B could threaten that density (they should call it Prop Party-Pooper), according to panelists at Bisnow's Future of the Waterfront where 400 joined us this morning at Hotel Nikko.

SF Giants managing director Jon Knorpp, who popped on his championship hat for a few seconds, says Mission Rock is an attempt to bring more people around the ballpark on non-game days and create an extension of (but also differentiate from) Mission Bay. Infrastructure is expensive along the water, he says. Piles are some of the deepest in the city, in order to hold up a building that's one or 50 stories. You need to develop enough density to pay for the foundation costs alone, he says. The public-private partnership that got Mission Rock rolling is great; now it's going to be a detour to work through Prop B.

Mayor's Office of Economic Workforce Development project director Sarah Dennis-Phillips, who started her career in urban design, has been working on Pier 70. These waterfront projects are key components in changing the Southeast corner of the city. There's the existing population to create an urban, active waterfront. The city started to get an urban waterfront with the Ferry Building, but it's not the kind of world-class activation a lot of cities around the world have. It's our loss if we don't use Pier 70 and Mission Rock to kickstart that.

Woods Bagot director of urban strategies Riki Nishimura, who moderated, clicked through a number of slides showing off some of the best waterfronts in the world (Boston, Hamburg, Vancouver, Sydney, and of course, S.F.). Waterfront development is very complicated, he says. San Franciscans know what they don't want on the waterfront; the challenge is understanding what everyone does want on the water. Catchy slogans and sound bites like "No Wall On the Waterfront" unfortunately pushed Prop B forward, despite the tons of community engagement work developers have already done, says Jon.

Forest City SVP Alexa Arena, who's working on the new construction portion of Pier 70, has gone through a robust community process using all types of strategies, like art installations and getting cultural anthropologists involved. The goal was to break down what it is people love about their neighborhood and how to bring that into the site. Now local groups like the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association have signed off, but the question ahead is how to educate people citywide about why Pier 70 is the right project in the right locale for S.F.

Orton Development partner James Madsen, whose co specializes in large-scale industrial/office rehab, plans to start construction on historic buildings on Pier 70 in September. Prop B doesn't apply to his project directly (and he admits he's relieved) but Orton has had to think about indirect effects. He's developed a project that can stand on its own in the event Forest City's portion gets delayed or there are phasing changes. The topography of Orton's site is such that Orton's parcel abuts the Dogpatch neighborhood so when his project is up and running there should be a fluid path of travel.

Port of SF project manager Phil Williamson, who's worked on the Exploratorium, is a Bay Area native and lifelong Giants and 49ers fan. These waterfront projects didn't just jump out of the ground in the last few years; it's been a very long and thoughtful process by the port to look at assets along the water that can meet financial goals, as well as accommodate needed housing adjacent to transit corridors.