SPUR: Let’s Not Miss the Boat on What America’s Cup Could Do For SF

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The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. Image: Rick Laubscher

Editor’s note: The following is being republished from SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Visit their blog at SPUR.org.

When it comes to global sporting events, almost as intense as the competition between star athletes is the competition between cities to play host.

That’s because hosting a major international sporting event presents a unique opportunity for a city to redefine its development goals, stimulate investment and boost tourism.

Just last month it was decided that San Francisco would host the 34th America’s Cup. There is no doubt that the San Francisco Bay will provide a breathtaking venue for yacht racing, and no doubt that there will be an infusion of spending in the city tied to the event.

But the real opportunity comes from leveraging the America’s Cup to make some major long-term investments in our city.

SPUR calls for the City to come together to make some important public realm improvements before the race happens; and to make sure we get high-quality private development that will stand the test of time.

Some specific ideas:

1. Build the F-Line extension to Fort Mason. Cup organizers expect 200,000 to a million visitors per day to the events. To deliver effective public transportation services to the on-shore spectator areas, we must invest in rail. There simply is no way to add enough vehicle volume to accommodate those numbers. The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. With support, creative financing, and expedient action, it is entirely possible for the project to be completed in time. For proof, one need only look to Seattle, whose streetcar line went from a policy decision to construction to operation in less than two and a half years. And it covers four times the distance of the proposed San Francisco extension.

2. Implement the “Embikeadero” plan proposed by SPUR in the 2009 Piero Patri design competition. Creation of a separated two-way bike path alongside the Embarcadero would enhance the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. Promoting multi-modal connectivity along the Embarcadero will help ensure that the public can access and enjoy its waterfront for the duration of the America’s Cup and beyond.

Image: Carrie Nielson

3. Build out the Jefferson Street public realm improvements to “Europeanize” Fisherman’s Wharf. The Jefferson Street redesign will transform an aging destination into a place that San Franciscans and visitors alike will find beautiful and compelling, while investing in the one of the city’s most important economic generators. In place of the current auto-centric street will be a shared space that will feel more like a public plaza, with outdoor cafes, space for strolling, and places to enjoy the dramatic views of the Bay, tied together by a quality of design unique in San Francisco. And while this will be the place where more race spectators will visit before and after events than any other along the waterfront, the Jefferson Street redesign also offers us the opportunity to create an exciting destination for San Franciscans.

4. Work with the Blue Greenway blueprint to link existing open spaces in the south waterfront. This project aims to make green infrastructure more accessible for exercise, recreation and enjoyment of art and open space in the City’s park-poor Southeastern Corridor. The final America’s Cup deal shifted focus to the northern waterfront, yet Larry Ellison has made it a goal of the 34th Cup to expand interest in sailing. Let’s broaden the appeal of sailing by funding swimming lessons, keeping rec centers with swimming pools open on weekends, and taking seriously the opportunity to invest in water-based recreation opportunities, as the Neighborhood Parks Council has called for. The Blue-Greenway already has some GO bond funding, which should be fast-tracked.

Image: America's Cup Media: AECOM

5. Start the conversation now about achieving excellence in the private development that happens after the race. The Event plans call for the team bases at Piers 30/32, team support uses at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 26 and 28, the public Race Village at Piers 27/29, regatta operations on Pier 23, and the media center at Pier 19.  The Host and Venue Agreement calls for private development at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 30/32, with options at Piers 26 and 28. The final blueprints have yet to take shape, but development must be conducted with an eye to long-term sustainability and public usability.

Conclusion

In a 2007 report, SPUR noted that the major obstacles to saving the waterfront are money and time. The America’s Cup has delivered the boon of major investment and sense of urgency. But we must ensure this dividend is spent in the short term in ways that enhance long-term usability for San Franciscans and future visitors.

There are many options for funding the public improvements, from the F-line extension to the Embikeadero. But time is of the essence.