SAN FRANCISCO — After more than two decades of controversy and turmoil, construction crews are reshaping an old lower-Market Street neighborhood into a billion-dollar showplace designed for the 21st Century.
A partnership of city and private interests, Yerba Buena Gardens is emerging from an ambitious plan for high-rise office, hotel, retail, recreational, entertainment and cultural facilities in a downtown area once overwhelmed by skid-row hotels, run-down apartment buildings, old warehouses and parking lots.
For months, a 1,500-room Marriott Hotel has been rising at Mission and 4th streets. A cavernous excavation across Mission Street is ready for the hotel's vast ballroom and exhibit facilities.
Spread over three blocks and anchored by Market Street and the Moscone Convention Center, the Gardens project is part of the much larger Yerba Buena Center redevelopment area.
The Gardens project is clearly the centerpiece, as the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency puts it, for the rekindled Yerba Buena neighborhood.
San Francisco Planning Director Dean Macris said the project fits beautifully into the city's scheme to redirect downtown growth to south of Market.
Even with the huge Marriott Hotel topped out at 40 stories and construction under way on the edge of Market Street, the development gives only a hint of the project's size, flavor and significance.
"It's easy to lose sight of what's happening here," said Marvin J. Richman, president of Olympia & York California Equities Corp., a partner in the project. "There's just . . . nothing to compare it to."
Offices, Retail Center
The development embraces 24 acres, or about 3 1/2 blocks, which is slightly less than one-third the overall Yerba Buena Center redevelopment area. Generally, the project extends south from Market to Folsom Street and east from 4th Street to just beyond 3rd Street.
The principal entrance of the $260-million Marriott Hotel, which is expected to open late next year, will be at 4th and Mission streets. Another entrance will be on Market Street.
Here, a spacious plaza will provide access to Yerba Buena Gardens' 30-story Market Street office building and an impressive skylight-roofed concourse and retail center extending more than two blocks to the Moscone Convention Center. Work is scheduled to begin on the office building early next year. Another office building on the east side of 3rd Street and more than 300 housing units are also planned.
Also, plans have been announced for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to relocate in its own new $70-million building next to the office high-rise.
Some Buildings Spared
Some buildings in the old Yerba Buena neighborhood are being spared, including St. Patrick's Catholic Church, founded in 1892 and restored after the 1906 earthquake.
Nearby, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s abandoned Jessie Street substation also is being preserved. The idea is to create a San Francisco version of Boston's Faneuil Hall Market Place, with the lower level to house a farmers' market for California products and the upper level a fine restaurant and art gallery.
Landscaped open spaces will extend from the Gardens' central focus--a terraced festival plaza, esplanade and fountain in the center of the lot between the hotel and convention center. This open area will serve as a stage for pageants and concerts in a park-like amphitheater accommodating up to 6,000 persons.
Other outdoor areas will include children's, learning and classical Chinese gardens.
In addition to the two-level retail promenade, this section will include an indoor ice skating rink and a 600-seat center for the arts.
Among facilities planned for the southernmost block, atop the Moscone Convention Center, are a starlight garden with landscaped walkways, waterfalls and a mini-lake, a 12-theater Cinema Center and an indoor pavilion devoted to technological re-creations of San Francisco's storied past and glimpses into its future.
Nearly 1,500 parking spaces had been planned under the project's middle block. However, the city's decision in February, 1986, to expand the convention center threw that idea into a tailspin.
Even though more than 1,100 parking spaces will be available in the hotel, office buildings and residential complexes, the city is planning to expand its aging block-long, three-level parking garage across from Yerba Buena Gardens to make up for the lost parking space.
Relinquishing development rights for parking upset Olympia & York's timetable for the Market Street office building, which was to have been started 18 months ago. The convention center's expansion also delayed other phases of the development.
Olympia & York and its partners have been formally involved in the project since 1980.
Under the plan, the developers are responsible for the office, retail, and amusement, recreation and entertainment facilities. The redevelopment agency will construct and maintain the Gardens and cultural spaces, using proceeds from land sales and tax increments.
Cost estimates for the public facilities range up to $100 million. By the year 2000, the city's share of participation revenues from the office buildings, hotel and other privately developed facilities is estimated at $3 million annually and could climb to $15 million a year by 2020.
Associated with Olympia & York California Equities Corp., a subsidiary of New York-based Olympia & York Equity Corp., are Marriott Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and Beverly A. Willis, head of her own San Francisco architectural firm. Retail facilities will be operated by the Rouse Co., which developed Baltimore's Harbor Plaza and the Sixth Street Seaport in New York, as well as Faneuil Hall Market Place.