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03.12.2012
In Irons
San Francisco scales down America's Cup ambitions.
New infrastructure for the race originally planned along San Francisco's waterfront will be scaled back.
Courtesy AECOM

In a surprising turn of events, the America’s Cup Event Authority early this month announced a “consolidated venue plan” that significantly diminishes the development footprint of the San Francisco-based event.  No longer part of the complex real estate deal are Piers 30, 32, and the prime real estate bounded by Beale, Bryant, and the Embarcadero. The Authority, a private organization that stages the event, would not comment directly on the move, but speculation centered on their concerns about attendance and finances for the project.

The announcement came on the eve of a crucial vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  While the vote was expected to narrowly pass, the America’s Cup, like all development projects in San Francisco, faced strong opposition.  Just prior to the venue change, a citizen’s group, Waterfront Watch, led by former Supervisor and anti-development activist Aaron Peskin, filed a lawsuit charging that “numerous procedural and substantive violations” of the California Environmental Quality Act existed in the proposed deal.

   
Left to right: Overlooking the waterfront and originally planned improvements including new green space and cruise terminal; The boat race route and once planned improvements along the city's waterfront; A once-planned $70 million cruise terminal would have also accommodated events.
Courtesy KMD and Pfau Long Architecture (left, right) and AECOM (Center)
 

Piers 27, 29, and 80 are still a part of the agreement, which is now being restructured by the event authority and the city of San Francisco.  Exact redevelopment plans for these piers—which are being master planned and designed by a team led by AECOM—are still unclear; a new scheme is expected in the next three to four weeks.

The America’s Cup was expected to make a major imprint on the San Francisco waterfront, which, of course, contains some of the most desirable real estate in the country.  Many of the decades-old piers are in serious disrepair and will likely not survive a major earthquake.  The agreement with America’s Cup organizers included seismic upgrading of the affected piers in return for long-term development rights.  That agreement also contained provisions for financial guarantees by the city if attendance was lower than projected. The financial risk to the city and the development deal led some elected officials to question the prudence of the arrangement as proposed.  Proponents of the plan stressed that the likelihood of any future developer making the infrastructure investment necessary was slim.

America’s Cup backers insist that the race will still occur in San Francisco.  What is now unclear is whether a positive contribution to San Francisco’s urban waterfront will result.

George Calys