Trans­bay Tran­sit Cen­ter — many changes, but al­ways a des­ti­na­tion

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPECIAL REPORT -


Two years af­ter the Bay Bridge opens, com­muter trains start run­ning from Oak­land into what de­buts as the San Fran­cisco-Oak­land Bay Bridge Elec­tric Rail­way Ter­mi­nal Build­ing. The fa­cil­ity at First and Mis­sion streets costs $15 mil­lion.


An­nual ser­vice peaks at 26.4 mil­lion rid­ers, but that num­ber is de­cep­tive be­cause World War II brought gas ra­tioning, which steered trav­el­ers from cars to trains. Though San Fran­cisco Mayor An­gelo Rossi back in 1939 had dubbed the ter­mi­nal and its ramps the Bay Area’s “rib­bon of con­crete ... bind­ing us more closely than ever,” two of the three ini­tial train op­er­a­tors al­ready have aban­doned trans­bay ser­vice.


De­spite the growth of the East Bay sub­urbs, rid­er­ship bot­toms out at 5.2 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 1957 and the last train de­parts on April 20, 1958. Tracks are re­moved and the ramps are repaved to ac­com­mo­date bus ser­vice in­stead.


The same year BART be­gins full oper­a­tions, a state re­port con­cludes that a re­built and ex­panded Trans­bay Ter­mi­nal could still play “an ex­tremely im­por­tant role in Bay Area trans­porta­tion.”


Am­trak ends its bus ser­vice to the in­creas­ingly de­crepit ter­mi­nal, with a spokesman say­ing, “We need to find a safer place for our pa­trons and em­ploy­ees.” An es­ti­mated 300 home­less peo­ple use the sta­tion’s benches as beds, and a man dies in a 6 a.m. shootout.


Mayor Frank Jor­dan pushes for a new, smaller fa­cil­ity one block east, at Beale and Howard streets. One plan­ning con­cept in­cludes a bas­ket­ball arena for the Golden State War­riors. “The arena idea has a lot go­ing for it,’’ one plan­ner tells The Chron­i­cle. “It would be lo­cated right near the hub of a re­gional tran­sit sys­tem.”


Jor­dan’s suc­ces­sor, Willie Brown, also seeks to move the ter­mi­nal and sug­gests re­plac­ing it at First and Mis­sion with the de Young Mu­seum. East Bay bus users fight back and find al­lies in com­muter rail ad­vo­cates, who want the Penin­sula’s Cal­train ex­tended to down­town from its ter­mi­nus at Fourth and King streets in Mis­sion Bay. San Fran­cisco vot­ers ap­prove Propo­si­tion H — in­struct­ing City Hall “to ex­tend the Cal­train line to a new or re­built re­gional tran­sit sta­tion in San Fran­cisco to be lo­cated on the site of the Trans­bay Ter­mi­nal” — by a 69-30 per­cent mar­gin. Brown sup­ports the mea­sure.


A de­sign plan done for the Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion pro­poses a re­built ter­mi­nal for buses and trains at First and Mis­sion streets “that cel­e­brates pub­lic trans­porta­tion.” Pri­vate tow­ers on sur­round­ing blocks would help pay for it. First meet­ing of the Trans­bay Joint Pow­ers Author­ity. The com­po­si­tion — three San Fran­cisco mem­bers as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Cal­train, AC Tran­sit and the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion — is a sign of the project’s re­gional di­men­sion. Maria Ay­erdi-Ka­plan is named ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.


The state agrees to trans­fer 12 acres around the Trans­bay Ter­mi­nal to the city. It is to be sold off for high-den­sity de­vel­op­ment, with all sales pro­ceeds and ex­tra tax rev­enue go­ing to the project. It’s ex­pected the land could hold around 3,400 hous­ing units, of which 35 per­cent are to be af­ford­able.


San Fran­cisco’s Board of Su­per­vi­sors signs off on the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact re­port for the project, in­clud­ing a route from the Cal­train sta­tion in Mis­sion Bay up Townsend and then Se­cond Street to the re­built tran­sit cen­ter.


The Joint Pow­ers Author­ity holds a de­sign com­pe­ti­tion for the new tran­sit cen­ter, as well as a tower at First and Mis­sion streets that is ex­pected to rise at least 1,000 feet. Three teams sub­mit pro­pos­als that are un­veiled with fan­fare in Au­gust at the Ferry Build­ing, then dis­played at City Hall. The jury se­lects the en­try from Pelli Clarke Pelli Ar­chi­tects and de­vel­oper Hines, call­ing the park “a risky, dar­ing move in neigh­bor­hood de­vel­op­ment.”


Af­ter a tem­po­rary ter­mi­nal is built at Howard and Beale streets, a cer­e­mo­nial ground­break­ing is held for the new tran­sit cen­ter. De­mo­li­tion of the 1939 ter­mi­nal be­gins four months later. The bud­get for the project is $1.6 bil­lion.


Work­ers spend the year ex­ca­vat­ing a hole 65 feet deep and 160 feet wide that will hold a con­crete shell to be filled later by the train sta­tion. The shell was added af­ter the Joint Pow­ers Author­ity was awarded a $400 mil­lion fed­eral stim­u­lus grant.


As ex­ca­va­tion is com­pleted and steele be­gins to rise, the project’s fi­nan­cial strains are in the news: The bud­get is now $1.9 bil­lion, with re­serves so low that the Joint Pow­ers Author­ity briefly warns it might not have the funds to open the rooftop park. At First and Mis­sion streets, Sales­force signs a lease for half of what will be called Sales­force Tower.


The good news: Steel­work for the above­ground struc­ture is nearly com­plete. The bad news: Es­ti­mated bud­get climbs past $2 bil­lion.


Re­vised bud­get is $2.26 bil­lion. Ay­erdi-Ka­plan an­nounces she is leav­ing the author­ity. The first alu­minum panel of the fa­cade is in­stalled, but there’s trou­ble next door — res­i­dents of Mil­len­nium Tower file claims for da­m­ages, say­ing the ex­ca­va­tion for the tran­sit cen­ter caused their high-rise to tilt and sink. The Joint Pow­ers Author­ity de­nies the charges, point­ing out that the tower al­ready had sunk be­yond engi­neers’ pre­dic­tions be­fore the tran­sit cen­ter’s 2010 ground­break­ing.


Sales­force buys nam­ing rights to the tran­sit cen­ter in a 25-year, $110 mil­lion deal.

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