San Francisco's fourth-tallest tower inches closer to approval

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San Francisco's fourth-tallest tower inches closer to approval

542-550 Howard Street could sit among a spate of other Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed projects. (Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli)

San Francisco’s Planning Commission has approved a new 61-story, 800-foot-tall mixed-use tower at Transbay Center. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects for a group led by developer Hines, if approved and built as currently planned, it would be the city’s fourth-tallest building.

Located at 542-550 Howard Street, the currently vacant site is known as Parcel F and sits across from the Transbay/Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Tower—both also designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli.

Anticipated to be the last major high-rise in the Transbay district, the proposal incorporates a 189-room hotel, nearly 300,000 square feet of office space, and 165 market-rate condominium units. Additionally, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s design calls for just under 9,000 square feet of retail space and a 183-car below-grade garage with bike parking. The scheme also includes an elevated pedestrian bridge that would connect to the PWP Landscape Architecture-designed Salesforce Park atop the Transit Center.

Like its taller neighbor, this latest glassy, 935,000-square-foot building is not without challenges and controversy. The development has already been through several rounds of refinement since the initial design reveal in 2016, with a reduction in the number of hotel rooms and residential units, as well as the size of the proposed commercial and retail uses. The office space is already fully leased to Salesforce.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the proposal has also faced challenges related to an annual citywide cap on new office space and has met with resistance from community groups in neighboring Chinatown, who are concerned about potential shadows cast over the popular Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground. Similarly, although 546 Howard Street’s developers would foot the bill for 337 units of off-site affordable housing, seen as vital in a city with dramatic and seemingly intractable housing shortages, as per the Chronicle, activists have expressed fears that these homes will not be affordable enough for area residents.

Despite these setbacks, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the project, and now 542-550 Howard Street’s final approval rests with San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.