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Pier 29 design, delayed by activists, moves ahead

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Renovation and retail project finally gets hearing

Tony Webster

In April of 2016, the Port Commission unanimously approved a 15-year lease of a historic building at Pier 29 to become retail storefront selling locally made coffee, spirits, and craft goods to tourists and locals alike.

But the project floated in limbo since then. Some of the same activists who spearheaded the “No Wall On The Waterfront” campaign that sank the 8 Washington development three year ago opposed this project. They dubbed it the “Mall On The Waterfront,” complaining that it doesn’t conform with the city’s waterfront plan.

A Jamestown representative says the project passed a Board of Supervisors committee Thursday morning, but it will also require full board approval.

The 120,000-square-foot bulkhead building at Pier 29 has been mostly derelict for years, though it’s located next to a cruise terminal and a block of busy offices.

The retail site would only take up about 20,000 feet of the larger building. “This is not a mall,” Remy Monteko, vice president of developer Jamestown, told Curbed SF.

Rather, the developer sees the proposal as a redoubt for “the new manufacturing industry” and modern San Francisco culture.

Products sold in the space would come by way of SFMade, the local nonprofit that advocates for San Francisco craft manufacturers.

The building today, used mostly for parking.

“A centralized location for folks to get SFMade goods would be a great boon,” Abbie Wertheim, SFMade’s policy director, tells Curbed SF. “This is an opportunity to move about $4 million in products from companies that right now average $200,000 a year.”

Most SFMade companies are small affairs with a few employees, not brand names.

Jamestown’s Monteko is quick to add that the plan calls for no change to the appearance of the pier building. “People are looking for authenticity,” she says of historic SF structures. “History is the thing you can’t manufacture.”

But Jon Golinger, head of both the old “No Wall” and current “No Mall” campaigns, calls it “deja vu all over again,” comparing the smaller Jamestown project to a proposal ten years ago to create a huge retail hub at the piers.

“The waterfront plan calls for a mixed-use recreation project at this site,” says Golinger.

“I don’t think anyone objects to more activity on the waterfront,” he adds. “The question is where. [...] There’s only a handful of these spots in the city or in the world. It’s almost impossible to calculate their value.”

The original renderings of the project. A new design is in the works and not available yet.
Courtesy Jamestown

The city can create an exception to the prescribed zoning in the plan, particularly since the 15-year lease is a temporary use.

But Golinger argues that if the retail business is as successful it will likely become permanent. He also suggests that overriding the waterfront plan undermines the civic process.

“The plan exists because voters weighed in in 1990,” he says, arguing that the Port operated for too long without rhyme or reason.

As Tim Redmond put it on his 48 Hills: “The Port of San Francisco seems unable to deal with the larger issue: Do we want the waterfront to be all private, pricey development, or do we want it to benefit the public?”

Developers, of course, argue that those are not mutually exclusive goals. The city and public will have it out soon, as the plan will have to pass through a classic San Francisco City Hall heated development showdown at the full board, probably next week.