I posted a thread about this awhile back but it appears to have dropped out of sight. Oh, well. The proposal has been greatly revised.
No renderings yet, as the idea is strictly conceptual at this point -- no developers, no architects, just an official plan. That said:
Short version: An old bus terminal on the edge of the Financial District has been slated for awhile now for demolition, to be replaced with a multimodal station serving Caltrain (commuter rail from the Silicon Valley, which would be upgraded to electric power and extended through a tunnel from its current terminus a mile or so away) and California High-Speed Rail, assuming it's built (vote on a starter bond has been delayed to 2008). It would be called the Transbay Transit Center, although it's still informally referred to by the name of the existing bus station, Transbay Terminal.
To help fund the project, several acres of surrounding property owned by the city would be redeveloped. Much of the property used to be the site of the Embarcadero Freeway, demolished after the 1989 earthquake, and is now parking lots. The original plan called for a half-dozen towers between 300 and 550 feet tall, and a seventh attached to the terminal that could be 700 or 800 feet tall (note also in the above renderings several nearby towers that are part of another plan, some of which are now under construction).
But the funding plan included a half-billion dollars from the high-speed rail bond, and as it's been repeatedly delayed officials have begun looking for other funding sources. In December a plan was announced that would increase the signature tower's height to 850' to the roof, 925' with a crown. Yesterday, another plan was announced upgrading the landmark tower to a thousand-footer, perhaps even the tallest building in the West (Library Tower is 1,018'). Additionally, sites have been found nearby for two new towers; one is now a parking lot, and the other a nondescript midrise. It's a bit unclear whether they would be taller than 800', or taller than 850'. In San Francisco, this is no small matter as our current tallest, the Transamerica Pyramid, is 853'.
Note that this graphic is off, as 345 California Center is 693' to the tips of its spires, not its roof.
Here's the story:
S.F. planners have high hopes for new center of downtown
Skyline boasting tallest building in the West envisioned on site of dingy transit terminal
- John King, Chronicle Urban Design Writer
Friday, May 26, 2006
Thirty-five years after the Transamerica Pyramid became the peak that defines San Francisco's skyline, city officials said Thursday that they want to push even higher -- making room for what could be the tallest tower west of Chicago.
The idea would be to raise height limits on several blocks south of Market Street to allow two towers as tall as the 853-foot Transamerica building and a third that would climb at least an additional 150 feet -- to more than 1,000 feet tall.
"It's a big idea, but we think the time has come for the city to think along these lines," said Dean Macris, director of the city's Planning Department. "This is our opportunity to create something special on the ground and in the sky."
Macris and other officials stressed that any changes would require at least two years of planning and environmental studies. No developer has yet proposed actual buildings, and there also could be opposition from people who see San Francisco as a place of low-slung neighborhoods, not skyscraping towers.
"We're not saying, 'Let the zoning begin,' " Macris said. "We're saying, 'Here are ideas.' We need to see if there is public support and leadership support."
Macris and other officials unveiled their proposal Thursday to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the government body in charge of building a new station to replace the dingy Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets now used by many of the region's public bus systems.
The estimated budget for the project, including a downtown extension of the Caltrain commuter line with room for future high-speed rail, is $3.35 billion.
Forty acres near the existing terminal were rezoned last year to aid the project. The current plan allows a 550-foot tower next to the terminal and six others above 300 feet. Those towers would go on public land that would be sold to help pay for the Transbay project.
The new approach would loosen zoning even more by allowing several towers to grow higher. The highest trio would rise near the corner of First and Mission.
The zoning changes could bring as much as $250 million in new funding to the terminal project, according to the work of the planners -- a group pulled from several city departments and the Transbay authority. The money would include extra revenue from the publicly owned sites and new tax revenue from privately owned land that would increase in value as a result of more-generous zoning.
But planners say that a cluster of extra-tall towers also would serve an aesthetic purpose -- given that residential towers as high as 600 feet already are under construction between Mission Street and the Bay Bridge. The trio of extra-tall buildings theoretically would serve as a sort of peak to the transformed skyline.
"This is the new center of downtown ... what makes sense to us is an exploration of heights of 1,000 feet or more at the transit terminal, or on some other nearby site," said David Alumbaugh, a senior urban planner at the San Francisco Planning Department. "We think it's a compelling vision that would be a dramatic new skyline for the city."
While that vision wasn't questioned at Thursday's hearing, it could be challenged by San Franciscans who have battled tall buildings in the past.
The construction of the Transamerica Pyramid and the 779-foot Bank of America building in the early 1970s spurred a succession of anti-growth initiatives on the city ballot. A 1972 urban design plan set a top height of 700 feet in the Financial District. Heights were lowered to 550 feet in the 1985 downtown plan that also gave landmark status to 250 older buildings.
The planning director in 1985 was Macris, who left in 1992 but was brought back from retirement in 2004 by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
"During the '80s, there was enormous public reaction to the loss of historical and good-looking buildings downtown. Opposing heights was a way to get a handle on the pace of change," Macris said Thursday. By contrast, the green light for residential towers south of Market Street has sparked little comment.
Other cities have become more open to extra height in recent years. In Seattle, a voter-imposed height limit from 1989 was removed last month to allow for residential high-rises. Closer to home, an Oakland developer has proposed a tower at 19th and Broadway that would be nearly as tall as the Transamerica Pyramid.
The tallest building on the West Coast is the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles at 1,018 feet.
Since the Transbay Joint Powers Authority was created in 2001, plans to create a Grand Central Terminal-like transit hub have moved slowly.
One funding piece fell out this year when state officials delayed plans for a statewide vote on a high-speed rail bond that would include $475 million for the San Francisco leg of the project. Last year, a legal battle over control of land next to the terminal site was settled when $58 million was paid to a developer planning a residential tower on the site.
A measure on the June 6 ballot would give the Board of Supervisors two seats on the Transbay board instead of the one it now has. The other members are representatives of Newsom, Muni, AC Transit and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.
Measure C was crafted by Supervisor Chris Daly, who serves on the Transbay board and has feuded with Newsom over the project. On Thursday, he said the tentative plan could be a good way to move the project along but said that extra revenues should be steered to the neighborhood as well as the transit project.
"It looks like a good proposal if you like height. I like height, but some people in San Francisco don't," Daly said. "There needs to be a public discussion."
This being San Francisco, this is far from a done deal. But if a thousand-footer is ever going to be built around here, this may be our best chance, as it's attached to an important and popular transit project.
Updates to come, no doubt.