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The SF megaprojects that actually finished on time

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With all of the San Francisco megaprojects that finally finish late, over budget, and defective, observers can’t help but wonder whether anything ever actually gets done right around here.

The answer of course is yes, but success tends to come in small doses—that is to say, the most successful public projects tend to be the ones with more modest goals.

This may reflect less on the competency of those doing the planning and more just on the inherent risks and basic nature of trying to plan a $1 billion-plus dollar proposal in the first place...although opinions will of course vary on a case by case basis.

Are there any really big-ticket projects that managed to avoid the seemingly unavoidable foibles of the world? The answers are yes, no, and maybe; as it turns out, it’s a complicated question.

To see why, consider the prime examples:

Moscone Center expansion, 2014-2018

After four years the full Moscone Center finally reopened to badge-bearing convention attendees everywhere in January of this year, after adding 157,000 square feet to the three buildings, bumping up the center’s total usable space to nearly 1.4 million.

The late Mayor Ed Lee put the renovation into motion back in 2012, calling the previous investments in the building “not enough” and arguing that a major overhaul would make the building more attractive to out-of-town meets critical to the city’s tourism industry.

So did the center actually stick to the original plan? Well...mostly. In January of 2014, the SF Planning Department’s Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report referenced a $350 million budget, but that figure was apparently already out of date, as the Moscone Center site itself was circulating a $500 million estimate as early as 2013.

The final tab was something like $551 million. That Planning Department Report from 2014 projected a construction timeline through June of 2018, but the actual completion didn’t happen until December of that same year.

So on one hand, the simple answer is that the center was in fact slightly over budget and slightly late. However, it could be argued that a reasonable budget and schedule should both include a margin of error, so generous observers might wave off the foibles on this one as pretty minor compared to the contra examples. Maybe.

SFO Terminal 1, 2016-Ongoing

Technically it’s impossible to say whether the expansion of SFO’s major terminal will finish on time and stay on its budget, as the project is still underway.

Per a press release about the 2016 groundbreaking, the whole thing is slated to take place in phases and finish off in 2024, to the tune of $2.4 billion.

But nobody has blown any deadlines related to the airport plan yet. In fact, SFO is being surprisingly optimistic, now projecting a slightly early finish in mid-2023.

The recent big opening involved nine gates in the new facility, which matches the established timetable; if things keep on as they’re planned another nine will be ready by March 2020.

The big, unexpected obstacle that the airport overhaul did run into was the surprising (and surprisingly bruising) fight over the name of slain SF Supervisor Harvey Milk on the building, which got very personal at some points. But it doesn’t seem to have significantly affected the bigger picture.

Chase Center, 2017-2019

This one is a bit of a misnomer, because the Chase Center is not a public project. In fact, one of the things that Chase Center honchos love to tout most is its status as “the only privately financed arena or stadium project, to be built on private property, in the modern era of sports.”

(Note that while the Warriors turned this into a marketing plus, team president Rick Welts really, really wishes SF had contributed public funding.)

This means that Chase Center is only really a megaproject in spirit, one of the sort that would ordinarily fall into the category of a major civic undertaking but in this case is more of a mutant subspecies of the phenomena.

Which is maybe a shame, since it’s all coming together nicely. When the arena broke ground in January of 2017 the goal was to get it open in time for the Warriors’ 2019-2020 season, and with the September open date looming it looks like they’ll just hit that goal.

Originally pushed as a $1 billion plan, that figure crept up to $1.4 billion by the beginning of this year. But at least it’s on time.