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FYI, Salesforce does not own Salesforce Transit Center, park

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Cloud computing giant is city’s biggest renter, not owner

Photo by Brock Keeling

Originally published in 2018, this story has been updated to reflect subsequent developments with the structure.

The Transbay Transit Center is finally open to actual transit service again, with coaches from Muni and other Bay Area transit agencies resuming service to the multi-billion dollar facility which, thus far, has serviced fewer actual buses than inspectors since its 2018 opening and almost as swift 2018 closure.

All of the attention paid to the building has once again provoked a tumult of confusion about its proper name and what the moniker actually means, with many San Franciscans assuming that cloud computing giant Salesforce actually owns the terminal, its related park, and the nearby Salesforce Tower.

But here’s the real deal:

  • The technical, official name for the structure is the Salesforce Transit Center. The park up top is Salesforce Park, and the nearby tower is Salesforce Tower. Note that search engine analytics reveal that most people (including Curbed SF) still call the building the “Transbay Transit Center” instead, but this is not strictly correct.
  • Salesforce doesn’t own any part of the bus facility or the park—it can’t, as they’re both public facilities. Salesforce Tower is privately owned but not by Salesforce; instead developer Boston Properties holds the deed for the building, which Salesforce rents.
  • In 2017, Salesforce bought a $110 million sponsorship deal for the park and the transit center that gives it naming rights on the building for 25 years. This is pretty much the same as the deals companies cut to get names like “Oracle Park” and “Chase Center” on sports arenas. As San Francisco Chronicle critic John King noted in 2018, the money from that sponsorship deal goes toward the upkeep for the facility, with the sum varying from year to year—when train service finally starts the company’s payments will balloon 20 percent.
  • Salesforce pays $50 million annually to rent office space in Salesforce Tower, or about $774.1 million for a 15-year plus lease. The naming rights are part of the deal Salesforce cut with the developers upon becoming the building’s first and biggest tenants. Note that Boston Properties let Salesforce put its logo on the front of the building, but City Hall was very particular about not doing so on the transit center.
  • For whatever it’s worth, SFMTA head honcho Ed Reiskin made a point in 2017 of saying how much he hates the Saleforce name on the transit center, calling it “distasteful,” although he acknowledged that the deal was too good for the city to pass up.

Salesforce really gets very little out of the naming rights deals—it spends those millions mostly just as a way to make sure that people have more occasions to keep using the company’s name in conversation and in writing.

But the hope is that the public profile of the structure will rub off onto its name sponsor as well. Of stadium deals, the Small Business Chronicle notes that companies “want fans’ warm feelings toward the home team to rub off on their corporate or brand names.”

The transit center’s ubiquitous closures and construction debacles are probably not generating a lot of warm feelings in San Francisco. But there’s 24 more years to go.