High Hopes

High Hopes

A rendering of the transformed downtown.
Courtesy TJPA

The recession has pummeled San Francisco’s real estate market, but don’t tell that to the city. On November 19, the Planning Department unveiled **a new downtown plan —the first since 1985—that adds seven new skyscrapers and designates the area around the Transbay Terminal as the city’s new downtown.

“This comprehensive plan is one of the lynchpins of the city’s future growth – one that is based in sustainability and channeling growth around major investments in public transit,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a release.

The Transit Center district, a 145-acre parcel south of Market Street, would be the site of seven new towers that would blast past the city’s current 550-foot height limit. Two would tower over the Transamerica Pyramid, one of the city’s tallest buildings, by 100 feet or more. The tallest would stand at the site of the planned Transbay Transit Terminal, a new high-speed train and bus station. The earliest version of the plan was introduced in April 2008, and it has been developed with significant community input.

Changing the city building limits, however, will require a lengthy approval process. Public hearings will continue through next year, with possible adoption by the Board of Supervisors in late 2010.

The plan aims to make downtown more walkable and pedestrian friendly by adding wider sidewalks, mid-block passageways, kiosks, narrower streets, and a rerouting of commuter traffic away from the area. A public plaza, new power and water conservation systems, and a 5.4-acre park atop Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Transbay Tower would also help make the district more environmentally friendly.

None of these amenities, however, could be built unless there is new construction downtown. An estimated $567 million in development taxes and fees would be needed to fund everything.

But development plans always attract dissenters in San Francisco, and this time is no different. A 1984-voter approved initiative blocks any building above 40 feet to cast a shadow on a public park. The only way around Proposition K, or the Sunlight Ordinance, is if the Planning Commission modifies it. The proposed towers would shade two plazas and possible two others.

Since the city last released its downtown plan in 1985, over 20 million square feet of office space, hotels, and apartments have been built downtown. Over the next quarter century, the new plan would allow half that, in the range of nine million square feet of new space.