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View Poll Results: Which transbay tower design scheme do you like best?
#1 Richard Rogers 35 7.69%
#2 Cesar Pelli 87 19.12%
#3 SOM 333 73.19%
Voters: 455. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old Posted May 26, 2006, 11:44 PM
J Church J Church is offline
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SAN FRANCISCO | Transbay Transit Center Redevelopment Plan

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.
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Last edited by J Church; May 26, 2006 at 11:49 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 12:24 AM
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It's worth doing if only for the extra $250million in project fees, plus the additional revenue to the property tax base... Smart, efficient growth like this is exactly what San Francisco needs to do to maintain a good balance sheet, even as population growth remains stagnant.
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  #3  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 12:39 AM
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It would be fantastic for the city's skyline if well done. The value in tourist advertising alone would be phenomenal. It could present an entirely new SF image.

Last edited by JMGarcia; May 27, 2006 at 8:56 PM.
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  #4  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 2:03 AM
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the current consensus from chronicle readers:



not bad, i guess...
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  #5  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 3:05 AM
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I am surprised to see the numbers that high in that poll for "yes". It would be nice to see SF's skyline grow upwards more.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 4:03 AM
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or any for that matter. hopefully SF can get a new one.
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  #7  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 5:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tech12
the current consensus from chronicle readers:



not bad, i guess...
...aaahh Manhattan. The center of all things evil and certainly not be emulated. But SF too Manhattanized already? Not even close. I scoff...
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 5:39 AM
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JM, What we have now is as far as many San Franciscans want to go.

Ironically, much of the belly aching is from former Manhattanites and East Coasters who moved to San Francisco and in the 1950s,1960s,1970s and 1980s. I happen to have a former boss who was born and raised in The Upper East Side and he would go off at the notion of San Francisco becoming like Manhattan-which I found odd. He and people like him campaigned vociferously against the development of new highrises. If it werent for them, San Francisco would probably look very different then it now does, and a Thousand Footer or Two probably would have already graced the skyline by now.

Their arguments vary from protecting bay and hill views to the shadows of buildings making it too cold inside canyons of skyscrapers to earthquake safety to blatant corporate displays of power etc. Its all quite amusing really.

I think this poll is promising. 30 years ago probably a slight majority would have voted "no, the city is already too manhattanized"
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 6:16 AM
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Framing debate on new towers for S.F. skyline
John King, Chronicle Urban Design Writer

Saturday, May 27, 2006



Let's get one thing straight: San Francisco doesn't need another extra-tall tower, or three. Eye-popping skyscrapers won't make the natural setting more scenic or neighborhoods like North Beach more vibrant.

But as planners explore the idea of a 1,000-foot-plus tower near First and Mission streets, remember that tall buildings aren't un-San Franciscan, either. And if they make sense anywhere downtown, this is the place.

Those two points should frame the public debate about allowing three towers taller than the Transamerica Pyramid as part of the effort to fund a new Transbay Terminal for buses and trains from outside San Francisco. This is an opportunity to create great architecture -- but the towers need to be judged on the merits of whether they also serve the greater good.


The fact that skyline-transforming landmarks are being discussed shows another thing: The terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center didn't change the financial and psychological allure of tall buildings.

That wasn't supposed to be the case after Sept. 11, 2001 and the grim sight of 110-story structures dissolving in flames. Pundits somberly equated towers with targets, especially ones that rose above the crowd. One particularly exuberant Cassandra, author James Kunstler, proclaimed that "the age of skyscrapers is at an end. ... It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed."

Instead, cities across the globe are more open to height than ever before. In London, best known for its historic neighborhoods, a 1,004-foot-high tower next to London Bridge is expected to start construction next year. In Chicago -- never shy about scraping the sky -- a 2,000-foot corkscrew-shaped residential tower was approved last month that, if built, will be 600 feet taller than Sears Tower, the world's tallest building from 1974 until 1996.

Even smaller cities such as Sacramento and Louisville, Ky., are getting in the game. Often the landmarks-to-be are designed by well-known architects; in Sacramento, one is the work of Daniel Libeskind -- best known for crafting a master plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site.

The upward push is fueled by everything from the fading immediacy of Sept. 11 to the argument that dense downtown development might slow suburban sprawl. There's also the urge to show off -- for developers to act like big shots (see: Donald Trump) or cities to beckon for attention on the global stage.

There was a hint of this when San Francisco Planning Director Dean Macris made his first public presentation Thursday of the idea of raising heights in the area around First and Mission streets.

The plan would allow three towers above 850 feet, one of which would climb an additional 150 feet -- or more -- above the two others. Macris and other officials said the extra height could generate roughly $250 million in additional revenues to help build a new Transbay Terminal and extend commuter rail lines from the peninsula to the financial district.

But Macris also said bold new towers might freshen San Francisco's image.

"Cities are in a competitive global arrangement these days," Macris said on Friday. "We count enormously on our cable cars and our topography and all of that, but we are in fact a city. And the buildings in a city make an enormous difference to where people go and what they see and do. ... We have not paid a lot of attention to the drama of our skyline."

But drama cannot be the goal as planning evolves around First and Mission streets.

The most important factor in evaluating plans for a taller skyline is whether the result will improve how San Francisco looks and feels -- on the ground as well as in the air. There should be public spaces that offer respite from the downtown swirl and design guidelines so that the towers are lean and elegant and don't block important views.

The last thing we need are refrigerator boxes similar to what's on Market Street -- but 500 feet taller.

Seismic safety is critical as well: Would any sites pose engineering dangers? Modern skyscrapers often are the best buildings to be in during an earthquake because they're attached to the ground and designed with overlapping webs of protection. But there's no room for error.

Finally, the public benefits must be clear. There needs to be a trade-off for letting certain towers (and developers) stand out above the rest.

That's what is intriguing about the still-sketchy plan. New towers would help the Transbay project, which is behind schedule. And the show-offs wouldn't be high-rise intruders in a low-rise nook: They'd be at the junction of the traditional Financial District and the approved residential towers of Rincon Hill to the south.

In other words, there's a legitimate case to be made for raising heights near the terminal, especially after seismic and safety issues are reviewed.

But it's not essential to San Francisco's self-image, much less its global reputation, that such a change occur. This is a city that always has been measured by its visceral appeal rather than the way it thrusts into the sky.

If planners are serious about reshaping the skyline, do it to create a better city -- not to sell postcards or to thrill the erector set.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 7:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JMGarcia
...aaahh Manhattan. The center of all things evil and certainly not be emulated. But SF too Manhattanized already? Not even close. I scoff...
Ha ha, I wish it was too "Manhattanized."

I'm a whore for Manhattanization.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 11:30 AM
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This is exactly what SF needs...a new landmark tower. With the exception of the TransAm Pyramid it currently doesn't have anything that stands out.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 3:52 PM
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^And even then, the TransAm tower doesn't seem to be at the right scale compared to the rest of the skyline, like it's a 3/4ths model next to all those bland, blunt boxes (try saying that 10x fast!).

Something needs to forcefully break out of that midtown Manhattan-like plateau. (uh oh, there's that word Manhattan again..)
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 6:34 PM
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SF has the money, the capital, and the innovation to complete this type of project of such a big magnitude. I just wish Philly would at least break the 1000' barrier with the currently constructing Comcast Center.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 6:56 PM
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^This thread isn't about that building, how many times are we going to have to see the same rant? Get over it!

Regardless...this is going to to be fun project to watch develop...

One of the largest arguments against towers in SF are related to shadows, but the interesting thing is that since this is in SoMa, the shadows cast are going to be over only office buildings most of the time. Shouldn't effect too many residences. Does San Francisco have a 'solar ordinance' that cuts down building height relative to what's allowed by zoning?

Can't wait to see the renderings from Twin Peaks and hills to the north saying things like: 'It blocks my view of the Oakland Hills!' Remember the Rincon Hill masterplan and the bullshit renderings the NIMBY's produced? (had towers shown probably 1.5 times the height they actually were proposed to be).

Is there a map yet of which blocks this will be on?
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 7:02 PM
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^ There's a map in the original post, Plinko.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 7:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by plinko
^This thread isn't about that building, how many times are we going to have to see the same rant? Get over it!

Regardless...this is going to to be fun project to watch develop...

One of the largest arguments against towers in SF are related to shadows, but the interesting thing is that since this is in SoMa, the shadows cast are going to be over only office buildings most of the time. Shouldn't effect too many residences. Does San Francisco have a 'solar ordinance' that cuts down building height relative to what's allowed by zoning?

Can't wait to see the renderings from Twin Peaks and hills to the north saying things like: 'It blocks my view of the Oakland Hills!' Remember the Rincon Hill masterplan and the bullshit renderings the NIMBY's produced? (had towers shown probably 1.5 times the height they actually were proposed to be).

Is there a map yet of which blocks this will be on?
the map of which blocks these towers will be on is at the top of this page.

As for shadows, san francisco does have prop k from 1984 which outlaws buildings from shadowing open spaces owned by the san francisco park and rec. the only open spaces that could possibly be affected are the parks lining the embarcadero (i.e. justin herman plaza). interestingly, 301 mission's EIR showed that it would shade these same parks at certain times during the year, but the planning commission and board of supervisors still approved the tower anyway.

although these towers would exceed the existing height and bulk limits, it appears as if new codes would be adopted that would allow these towers.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 7:30 PM
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This is all great news for San Francisco, but I'm surprised that nobody commented that :

Quote:
Closer to home, an Oakland developer has proposed a tower at 19th and Broadway that would be nearly as tall as the Transamerica Pyramid.
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  #18  
Old Posted May 27, 2006, 8:07 PM
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We've discussed it in the Califorum. I think the thing is that no one actually believes the tallest version of that building will be built. But if anyone wants to know more:

http://www.sfcityscape.com/log_06_04-06.html#0422
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 8:40 PM
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Thanks.
The San Francisco Bay Towers may be the answer to the Oakland proposal. Even though it's unlikely to be built, I suspect a competition in the Bay Area. That's always a good thing.
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Old Posted May 27, 2006, 8:49 PM
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San Francisco is a beautiful city and I see no reason the skyline shouldn't expand and become taller. I'm all for it.
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