BUSINESS WATCH

A unique monument to urban life

The main effect of the Reichmanns' stunning new complex in San Francisco will be to shift the business area’s centre of gravity

Peter C. Newman March 13 1989
BUSINESS WATCH

A unique monument to urban life

The main effect of the Reichmanns' stunning new complex in San Francisco will be to shift the business area’s centre of gravity

Peter C. Newman March 13 1989

A unique monument to urban life

BUSINESS WATCH

PETER C. NEWMAN

While the Reichmann brothers continue to negotiate corporate megadeals that solidify their stature as the Rothschilds of the New World, their most interesting series of current projects is the reviving of run-down cores of a dozen American cities. Having completed New York’s precedent-shattering World Financial Centre, they have a dozen other Big Apple skyscrapers either being built or being modernized and they are pushing up major projects in downtown Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Portland, Orlando and Hartford and in Springfield, Mass.

The most spectacular of these undertakings is the $ 1.8-billion Yerba Buena Gardens redevelopment of 24 acres (3V2 blocks) of San Francisco’s crowded financial district, which sets new measuring sticks for co-operation between public and private sectors. It is the centrepiece of the city’s urban renewal initiative, and much of the project is being designed by César Pelli, the Argentine-born genius who headed the School of Architecture at Yale from 1977 to 1984 and who has designed such noteworthy buildings as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Like the Reichmanns’ mammoth Canary Wharf redevelopment near London’s financial district, the San Francisco complex will include landscaped gardens, plazas and cultural facilities; as in England, its main effect will be to shift the business district’s centre of gravity.

Almost a decade ago, then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein invited the world’s foremost developers to create for her city “an environment in the form of a magnificent urban garden.” Olympia & York Developments won the bid against, among others, Robert Campeau and Cadillac Fairview, then spent four years assembling the land and negotiating a complicated formula for its development. The main element in the deal was that the revenues Olympia & York is paying the city from the public land sales would be used for public

improvement in the Yerba Buena Gardens’ public projects.

Here is how it works, according to Richard Kattman, the Reichmanns’ local general manager: “ Olympia & York will be purchasing the land under the office buildings. The redevelopment agency will be taking the proceeds from those land sales and putting them toward public improvements on the project.” Construction of the 35-storey, 1,500-room Marriott Hotel, which anchors the area’s western comer, is almost complete. Due to open this fall, the hotel, which will be the second-largest in San Francisco, will eventually be connected to underground ballrooms and banquet facilities with attached parking space.

Next to rise will be a prestige office building, part of the centre’s eventual 1.2 million square feet of rentable space. What will make the gardens different from most business district developments is the deliberate effort to generate some cultural and social after-hours street life, which at the moment consists largely of bums and unclassified predators skulking in unlit doorways.

With nearly a quarter-million square feet devoted to luxury shops and about the same amount of space used for theatres, cinemas, art

galleries, museums and four kinds of gardens (a sculpture court, a Chinese garden, a collection of earth forms and a year-round winter garden, which includes an ice rink), the place should restore human traffic to an area of San Francisco that now shuts down when offices close. The San Francisco Museum of Modem Art is planning on relocating to a new facility on the project, and the Reichmanns will also be catering to out-of-towners because the Moscone Convention Centre, which is located directly beneath the Reichmann project, also has plans for expansion.

For romantics, the centre’s top floor will be converted into a Starlight Garden, which was conceived as a romantic environment of pools, fountains and special lighting. “These additions will double existing convention facilities,” said Kattman, “so that some of the largest U.S. conventions, including the American Medical Association, can be accommodated. We have long felt that Yerba Buena Gardens was a unique private/public partnership to produce civic benefits, as well as being a good investment.”

Just how good an investment becomes apparent in the context of the San Francisco business scene. The city has not been growing, staying at about 750,000 for more than a decade, because, except for the financial district, no highrise development has been allowed, and its peninsular, water-bound geography prohibits much expansion. Nearly all the growth has taken place across the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, in paved suburbs with a burgeoning population of more than five million. The city’s tiny financial district has not been able to keep up with office space demand, particularly because many financial institutions, fed up with Los Angeles’s smog and higher crime rate, have moved north to San Francisco. As well, a number of companies are relocating to the West Coast from the East and many choose either Los Angeles or San Francisco as their destination.

The main effect of the Reichmanns' stunning new complex in San Francisco will be to shift the business area’s centre of gravity

San Francisco city officials wanted to avoid having their downtown turned into a concrete canyon. As a result, in 1986, they passed the controversial Proposition M, which placed a strict limit on the new office space (475,000 square feet) that could be built in any one year. “Our project,” said Kattman, “was exempted from that requirement, which means that the amount of office space coming on stream will be very limited from now on, and Yerba Buena Gardens will, in fact, be the last major development allowed in downtown San Francisco for the foreseeable future.”

Typically, the Reichmanns did not rush into the planning of the project, the completion of which will span more than a decade. Because they have been consulting extensively with community groups and civic officials, a climate of trust has evolved. Added Kattman: “The Reichmanns—and it has been Albert who did most of the negotiating—from the beginning adopted the attitude that they want to do something more than just throw up new office buildings. They want to provide a sense of space and fun—a monument to urban life, not as it is, but as it should be.”