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San Francisco’s Waterfront Prime For Development

San Francisco’s waterfront is in the midst of a revitalization. Bisnow caught up with FivePoint regional VP Ivy Greaner and Port of San Francisco interim executive director Elaine Forbes to find out what makes the waterfront an ideal place for new development. They will both be speaking at our San Francisco’s Future of the Waterfront event Oct. 20.


Ivy, above, tells us San Francisco is unique because none of the larger US cities has a shoreline that is as integrated into the urban grid with residential and commercial like San Francisco does. She says with San Francisco’s rolling elevations, the view is not limited at the water’s edge.

“There is an unparalleled opportunity for expansiveness for shoreline improvements in this city,” says Ivy.


San Francisco’s waterfront is the city’s front door step, Elaine, above, tells us. The waterfront has so many features and has changed within the last 20 years. The Embarcadero freeway came down and today there are many more attractions, including the Exploratorium, Ferry Building and Giant’s stadium.

So much of the southeastern shoreline is largely undeveloped, Ivy says. All of the upcoming developments in this southeastern Bayfront area are a chance for San Francisco to increase residential housing, commercial office, makerspace, parks, retail and other mixed-uses, Ivy says.

What is also helping development is a push by the Port of San Francisco to create a mixture of uses along the waterfront including not only space for ferries and cruises, but also public recreation, education and entertainment, according to Elaine.

“The diversity makes it more phenomenal than just being San Francisco’s front doorstep,” she says.


Elaine says the waterfront will benefit from upcoming development that will help preserve the historical buildings and finger piers important to the city. The developments not only serve the city’s needs, but also create waterfront parks and additional public access for people.

When the Exploratorium, above, moved to its waterfront location, the pier it stands on was completely restored. She says she loves seeing groups of children coming to Exploratorium and being able to be a part of the waterfront.

San Francisco Shipyard and Candlestick Point

FivePoint's The Shipyard development, partial rendering above, has the added bonus of having a deep history associated with it and the developer will be able to re-use some of the existing buildings, making it even more uniquely San Francisco, Ivy says.

Other developments along the waterfront include India BasinPier 70 and Treasure Island.

Developing along the waterfront isn’t without its challenges and, Elaine says, “we have a lot of them.”

The cost to repair the facilities is extraordinary because they are on the water. The regulations and having to coordinate permits with various agencies also make it more difficult. It is a very long process and very expensive to restore.

The Port of San Francisco wants to find better financing tools and to get tax sources to pre-pay the infrastructure financing. The port is also considering “the right partners to restore the pier and adapt to sea level rise,” Elaine says.

Ivy says FivePoint has taken potential rising sea levels into consideration from the beginning. The initial environmental impact report suggested grading areas should be about 36 inches, but FivePoint is taking the higher estimation of 55 inches as its standard.

“We have the unique opportunity as early adopters who have and are addressing these issues, and our design considerations reflect that,” she says.


The Port of San Francisco’s biggest challenge will be restoring a 3.5-mile seawall that runs from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Giant’s stadium that is “seismically vulnerable,” Elaine says. The soil around the wall is basically mud and needs reinforcement.

The port is working with different sources to come up with the best solution, which could include adding concrete, building a new seawall or other engineering solutions.

Despite the challenges, the Port of San Francisco wants more attractions to “call the public to the waterfront,” much like the Exploratorium and Giant’s ballpark.

“We want more beautiful projects that bring the public back again and again,” Elaine says.

Hear more from Elaine, Ivy and our other speakers on the Future of the Waterfront Oct. 20 at The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.