New Richmond ferry draws developers and businesses to long-struggling city

By Emily Hoeven  – Editorial Intern, San Francisco Business Times, Jan 6, 2019


Keba Konte hopes a new ferry in Richmond will bring his business scores of new customers.

Konte’s Red Bay Coffee, which currently operates three locations in Oakland, will cater to Richmond’s first ferry commuters in over two decades when the city opens its new $21 million ferry terminal on Jan. 10. He plans to park his coffee truck near the waterfront Craneway Pavilion.

“Richmond interests us because it shares the same spirit as the city of Oakland, a working-class city that has often been viewed as the underdog. It’s a developing city and we strive to be a part of that story,” Konte said.

The ferry terminal has spurred other businesses and developers to want to be a part of Richmond’s story as well. They’re attracted to the idea of a high-density waterfront community, a 35-minute commute to San Francisco and increased foot traffic to businesses and restaurants along the waterfront and downtown. Already, there are over 2,000 housing units slated to be built within five miles of the terminal, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

“The waterfront is our biggest opportunity to promote Richmond,” Butt said. “The ferry service is going to accelerate some of these projects in the pipeline because a lot of people are really anticipating that ferry. A lot of people commute to San Francisco from Richmond and areas around it. It’s going to be popular.”

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), which oversees ferry service throughout the Bay Area, estimates that 250 people will ride the Richmond-San Francisco ferry per day during its first year of service, with ridership increasing over time to as many as 750 people per day. San Francisco-based boat tour agency Blue and Gold Fleet will operate and staff the ferries, offering four trips from Richmond to San Francisco in the morning and four trips back to Richmond in the evening.

By the numbers

Ferries have been active in Richmond since 1925. The most recent one operated in 1989, after the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed parts of the Bay Bridge and commuters were forced to find another way to get to their jobs in San Francisco. However, the boats weren’t fast enough to make it an attractive alternative commute, and the service died out.

$21 million - Amount of funding assembled by WETA to make the ferry a reality. The majority ($18.5 million) came from California Proposition 1B.

$3.2 million - projected operating costs for 2019

$6.75 - cost of a ferry trip with a Clipper card

20 percent - The amount of the operating costs that fare revenue should cover

Faster ferries can now whisk commuters from Richmond to San Francisco in 35 to 40 minutes. That’s comparable to BART: It takes 36 minutes to travel from Richmond to San Francisco’s Embarcadero station. The ferry trip is more expensive — $6.75 with a clipper card, compared to $4.80 on BART — but Connolly says it evens out since it will be free to park in the ferry’s 350-space parking lot.

“For someone from Richmond commuting to San Francisco on BART, it’s going to be crowded. If they take express buses, that’s really slow. Or they could get on a boat and be in San Francisco in 35 minutes,” Connolly said.

A spate of nearby developments could supply an even larger quantity of commuters. Two waterfront projects are under construction and closing on sales, including Lyon Homes’ Rows at NOMA, consisting of 98 condos, and Shea Homes’ 60-townhome Waterline project. New West Co. plans to break ground in the second quarter on its ambitious Quarry project of 193 condos near Point Richmond and is also under contract to buy a five-acre site 150 yards from the ferry terminal that could be developed for up to 600 units.

“Obviously the ferry was a big part” of New West’s decision to invest in Richmond, said Todd Floyd, a principal. “The ferry and what was happening there got our attention, but once we were there we fell in love with the community.”

“Richmond is a great area that’s been overlooked and not thought about by the rest of the Bay Area until now,” Floyd added. “Now that there’s the opportunity to take the ferry and be in downtown San Francisco, it’s going to change everything.”

The ferry terminal serves not only as a selling point for future residents, but also as an opportunity to promote investment in local businesses.

Amanda Elliott, executive director of Richmond Main Street, a nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing the city’s downtown, is working with the city to develop a “circular transit” system that would connect the ferry terminal, BART station and Business Hub to bring commuters and tourists downtown, helping local retailers and restaurateurs thrive.  

For his part, Konte is already looking for a third site in Richmond to build out a Red Bay Coffee roastery. Red Bay’s second site in the city will open on Jan. 15 as part of the Richmond Business Hub, a coworking space and food hall located on the ground floor of the BART parking garage.

Richmond presents “a very raw business opportunity,” Konte said. “It’s underserved. Once we open our locations, others will follow our lead and come to Richmond and discover it” for themselves.

“The ferry is what’s going to get people to Richmond and then they’re going to fall in love with the area” and stay, Floyd said.

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