San Francisco

Is CalSTRS Considering A Hotel On Embarcadero's Bay Club Site?

A local activist who's fought for more than a decade to protect the Bay Club recreation center on the Embarcadero is on guard again, telling us there's the possibility of a hotel being proposed for the site.

For years, Lee Radner, chair of Friends of Golden Gateway (FOGG), has made it his mission to fight to keep the center, currently the Bay Club at the Gateway, from being razed—most recently, as part of the 8 Washington project, which was officially scuttled last month.

Now, he tells us, Michael Cohen of Strada has approached him to tell him that the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) is interested in investing in a hotel on the property, which would reach its current zoned height limit of 84 feet.

Radner tells us Cohen talked about upgrades to the club and its three swimming pools, but didn't mention the tennis courts, which are heavily used by area residents and FiDi workers. Cohen was unavailable for comment by deadline, and the Bay Club, which leases the land for the recreation center from the owner of the Gateway Apartments and Townhomes, also declined to comment.

Lee Radner.

According to an SF Weekly report, CalSTRS lost $44 million on the now-defunct 8 Washington project, which would have been built on the Bay Club site and an adjacent Port-run seawall lot at the Embarcadero and Washington Street. The group's return to the same spot with another idea rankles Radner. "My response was as it’s always been: Forget it," he said. "We’re not going there again.”

We reached out to CalSTRS with several questions, including a request for confirmation that it's in talks with Strada and/or any other developers to potentially build a hotel on the Bay Club site. "CalSTRS does not comment on actions it may or may not take," responded Michael Sicilia, media relations manager for CalSTRS.

Radner tells us neighborhood groups that blocked the 8 Washington project with ballot initiatives and legal battles will not hesitate to fight a new project if it's proposed. "This is not going to happen again," he told us. "We don’t hopefully go through the same situation we did, with the ballot initiatives, the propositions we worked on." An effort against a proposed hotel would also likely enlist help from Supervisor Aaron Peskin, a vocal proponent of waterfront preservation.

On March 24th, Assembly member David Chiu sent a stern letter to CalSTRS board chair Harry M. Keiley, suggesting the entity not pursue another project on the 8 Washington site, "or to only support a project with robust support from the surrounding community." His office staff told us the letter wasn't in response to any specific development proposal.

The letter continued:

It is difficult to see San Francisco changing its collective mind on any similar project at the site, and it is hard to see how prospects for this investment will improve. Given the fiduciary duty of CalSTRS to maximize its return, the organization entrusted with the future of California's teachers should do better.

We asked CalSTRS for any comments regarding the letter. "We are in receipt of and are reviewing the letter from Assemblyman Chiu," Sicilia responded.

We also asked CalSTRS if Seawall Lot 351—which was going to be combined with the private property on which the Bay Club sits to form the 8 Washington site—is part of the site desired for, or required for, the hotel project. Sicilia told us the Port land was relinquished when 8 Washington formally terminated the exclusive negotiating agreement. Any further action on that parcel will have to start at square one, and go through the entire approvals process once again. 

Seawall Lot 351 is a parking lot.

The 8 Washington battle has long been a flashpoint between pro-development forces and waterfront preservationists, and any further proposals for building on the Bay Club site, in particular, are sure to set off new debates.

At the same time, hotel development is definitely hot at the moment, given sky-high occupancy rates (and accompanying hotel tax revenues) across the city. A slew of new hotels have been approved in SoMa, as well as one just two blocks away on the Embarcadero and Broadway, which is part of the Teatro ZinZanni project. Another hotel proposal is in the works in the FiDi, at 447 Battery St.

Meanwhile, Radner is pushing for a public activities center on the seawall lot, which he hopes could contain a bike shop, a cafe, lockers, and showers, among other amenities. He says he's received positive feedback from various groups, agencies and supervisors on his proposal.


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