Nowhere is this more apparent than Treasure Island, where, after two decades of planning, the first residents will move into new buildings on both the main island and the adjacent Yerba Buena Island in 2022.
On Treasure Island, Swords to Plowshares and Chinatown Community Development Center will debut the 104-unit Maceo May Apartments late in the year, apartments that will house some formerly homeless veterans. On Yerba Buena Island, Wilson Meany will open the Bristol, a six-story, 124-unit condo project overlooking Clipper Cove and the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
But the creation of an 8,000-unit neighborhood on the 400-acre island will only accelerate after the first two buildings open. Treasure Island could see work start on as many as 985 units in 2022, including Tidal House, a 20-story apartment tower. A ferry terminal will open this month, offering residents a five-minute cruise across the bay to the Ferry Building, according to Wilson Meany Partner Chris Meany.
“We can’t wait to welcome residents early this spring to become a part of this exciting new residential community,” said Meany, whose firm is the master developer for the island.
At Mission Rock, across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge from ATT Park, Tishman Speyer and the San Francisco Giants are rapidly transforming an 11-acre surface parking lot with three buildings — one residential, one biotech and one slated to be Visa’s new corporate headquarters.
Construction started in December 2020 on the first two buildings, Visa’s corporate headquarters and Building A, a 23-story apartment. That was followed by a life science building on Third Street. Work will start on a fourth building, a 255-unit apartment complex designed by Studio Gang, as well as the 5-acre China Basin Park.
“We are trying to deliver the park and the four buildings as close together as we can,” said Carl Shannon, senior managing director with Tishman Speyer.
All told, work could start on some 3,000 units spread across the city’s megaprojects, often former industrial or military properties that require a multiphase approach and infrastructure work like streets, sidewalks, parks and utilities. About 1,300 units are expected to be completed as part of these projects in 2022, including about 300 units at 5M — the 4-acre development next to The Chronicle’s newsroom at 901 Mission St. — and 350 apartments that represent the first phase of a project Local 38 Plumbers Pipefitters is building with Strada Development at 1621 Market St.
Breaking ground will likely include 708 deeply affordable apartments built at three different public housing complexes — 357 at Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace, 183 at Hunters View in Hunters Point, 168 at Sunnydale. At Power Station, a former power plant on the Dogpatch waterfront, construction crews are busy restoring the historic 19th century power plant — in 2022, grading will be completed and utilities installed.
“Our major projects are starting to produce the new homes, open spaces and jobs that we’ve counted on for years,” said Judson True, Mayor Breed’s director of housing delivery, who has focused on pushing the megaprojects forward. “We still have more to do, but we’re working with all the city departments closely to help these future neighborhoods take shape.”
But while several of the city’s largest projects keep on trucking, others are stuck in neutral. The redevelopment of Parkmerced, slated for 5,600 apartments, still has not started, more than a decade after it was approved by the Board of Supervisors. Work at Schlage Lock, on the city’s border with Brisbane, has been delayed due to the pandemic, while the 12,000-unit development at the shipyard and Candlestick Point has been mostly on hold with the exception of one 77-condo building.
And the future for many smaller projects — that don’t involve public-private partnerships or spread risk out over a decade — is even less certain. Stalled projects include an apartment complex slated for Ninth and Mission, a tower approved at Market and Van Ness and several mixed-use projects in the South of Market.
While Tishman Speyer’s twisty, white Mira condo development near the Embarcadero has done well since it opened last year — it’s 70% sold — Senior Managing Director Carl Shannon said that the math is not working at the moment for a typical housing project.
“Construction costs have gone up a lot, and even though rents have recovered somewhat, the generic market rate project in San Francisco doesn’t make sense today,” said Shannon. “You would need rents to go up or construction costs to go down.”
John Manning, who heads up commercial real estate financing for Avison Young, said there are very few housing developers looking for debt or equity for new San Francisco projects. Part of that is because sites where projects have been approved are clustered in downtown areas, like Civic Center, South of Market and the Tenderloin — all neighborhoods that continue to struggle with empty office buildings, vacant storefronts and open-air drug dealing.
Neighborhoods that have bounced back more successfully from the pandemic, like the Sunset, Haight-Ashbury or the Marina, don’t have any approved projects ready to break ground.
“The areas where development is allowed are, generally speaking, those that have been hit hardest in terms of rental rates and condo values,” Manning said. “To break ground on a new project would require a vision and confidence that things are going to pop back up to an extent that is hard to imagine right now. That’s not something I’m hearing a lot of.”
The fact that so many infill projects are not going forward doesn’t bode well for housing production over the next few years.
This year the city is on track to open about 4,500 units, most of which started construction prior to the pandemic. An additional estimated 5,800 units are under construction, most of which will wrap up in 2022 or 2023. That is a lot less than the high of 10,000 units that were being built in 2016 or 2017. The data suggest that 2022 and 2023 could be lean years in terms of completions, with less than about 3,000 new units a year, according to city data.
Rudy Gonzalez, secretary treasurer of the San Francisco Building Trades Council, said he is optimistic that some of the big projects will help some of the 1,300 union construction workers who are out of work. But he said that the fact that downtown office buildings are still largely empty because of the pandemic is hurting plumbers and pipefitters and electricians who rely on “tenant improvements” in corporate space for about 50% of their work.
“Mission Rock is beautiful. Treasure Island is beautiful,” he said. “But all the (tenant improvement) work generated from the buildings downtown? At the end of the day we are just not seeing downtown come back to life.”
Meanwhile, housing development battles continue to rage at City Hall. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently made national news for rejecting over 800 housing units proposed for the Tenderloin and South of Market.
Partly in response to that, Mayor London Breed has introduced a charter amendment that would allow some code-compliant projects to bypass the city’s famously difficult approval process.
“Working people like our nurses, teachers, and even the construction workers who build our homes are suffering because we haven’t built enough housing for decades,” said Breed. “Even with the progress on moving large projects forward, we have to make fundamental changes to how we approve and permit housing in San Francisco so families can afford to stay here.”
J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SFjkdineen