Soon-to-open Richmond ferry terminal could revive shoreline, usher in gentrification
Rachel Swan - San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 2018
Construction cranes loom over the Richmond shoreline, a briny landscape of weeds and eucalyptus trees that’s on track to become a transportation hub.
Come fall, passengers will board ferry boats from a new $20 million terminal at Harbour Way South, an industrial strip of roadway that spills onto the Bay Trail. From there it’s a half-hour commute by water to downtown San Francisco.
Officials, business owners and real estate developers see the terminal as a trigger for economic development. They say it could spur the revival that Richmond leaders have talked about for years, although it’s always seemed just a little out of reach.
It will probably bring new shops and restaurants to the area around the former Ford assembly plant, now a gleaming brick-and-windowed showroom called the Craneway Pavilion. It may draw tourists to the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park Visitor Center or lure tech workers into shoreline housing developments — including a planned apartment building on a weed-choked lot at Harbour Way South, which could hold as many as 600 units.
The developer of that building, Todd Floyd, whose firm, New West Communities, is also planning a 200 unit mid-rise on nearby Seacliff Drive, said he picked those sites because they are near the ferry terminal.
“That’s what got our attention,” he said. “I mean, it’s an absolute game changer.”
Most importantly, it could change outside perceptions of Richmond, a scrappy East Bay city long known for crime, the Chevron oil refinery, struggling schools and boarded-up storefronts downtown.
“As far as Richmond is concerned, perception is everything,” said Mayor Tom Butt, who believes negative stereotypes about blight and violence have slowed economic development.
But the possibility of an economic boom on the shoreline worries members of Richmond’s progressive political wing. Some are concerned that the ferry will speed up tenant displacement in one of the Bay Area’s least costly places to rent that is connected to a BART station.
If a new mass transit option entices newcomers and there isn’t enough housing to accommodate them, they will compete for Richmond’s existing housing stock, said the city’s vice mayor, Melvin Willis.
Alternatively, Willis said, the ferry could lead to prodigious development but also bump up property values.
“If rents go up in certain areas around the ferry, that would cause rents to go up in other parts of Richmond,” Willis said. He worries that longtime residents will get priced out.
Such fears prompted Richmond voters to approve a rent-control ballot measure two years ago. Since, then, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has climbed marginally, from $2,381 a month in November 2016 to $2,500 a month in April 2018, according to real estate tracking site Zillow.
Willis said the ferry is “something to be very vigilant about.”
To transportation and housing experts, the ferry service is a form of smart urban planning. Up to 1,000 apartment and condominium units are planned for the vicinity of the terminal, and the people who live there would have easy access to San Francisco — with no need to drive.
“So they’re not creating congestion or exacerbating air quality issues,” said Nick Josefowitz, a board director for BART and the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which oversees ferry service throughout the region.
When East Bay cities build dense housing near transit nodes, they help ease the housing crisis in San Francisco, Josefowitz noted.
Eli Moore, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, expressed guarded optimism. He speculated that many low-income residents may miss out on the convenience and job opportunities provided by the ferry because they won’t be able to afford tickets.
The proposed fare is $9 one way for adults, $6.75 with a Clipper card, which is more expensive than BART. It will probably be half price for seniors and those ages 5 to 18, $2.90 for those in school groups and free for children younger than 5.
Yet when a city adds a new transit service — even a service that only a slice of the population can afford — it helps alleviate congestion for everyone, said Matt Lewis, an environmental consultant in Berkeley. Officials from the Water Emergency Transportation Authority predict that the boats from Richmond will carry 500 to 1,000 passengers per day during their first year.
That number will probably go up. Data from the authority show that in the past six years, ridership nearly tripled on the ferry boats between Oakland’s Jack London Square and San Francisco— from about 40,000 people in April 2012 to more than 108,000 in April 2018. The number of passengers riding ferries between Vallejo and San Francisco jumped from about 100,000 to more than 236,000 over the same time interval.
If commuters use the service in Richmond, fewer cars will jam the interlocking streets and boulevards that feed the Interstate 80 and 580 freeways, Lewis said.
The area around the ferry is already starting to change, with the addition of Assemble Restaurant, a popular brunch spot next to the Craneway, and the R&B Cellars winery.
Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin hopes that small crop of businesses will mushroom with the addition of the ferry service in October.
“My fantasy is that we’ll make this the East Bay entrance to Alcatraz, which gets a million visitors a year,” said Soskin, arriving to work at the Rosie the Riveter Center on a recent weekday morning.
Nearby, Mohan Ram was walking along the Bay Trail. He stopped by the soon-to-be-developed lot at Harbour Way South and craned his neck to look at the ferry construction site.
“Do you know anything about this ferry opening?” asked Ram, who owns a condo in the Marina Bay area — an outcropping of town houses and wraparound streets near the waterfront.
He said the condo will be vacant soon, and he’s hoping the ferry will attract prospective tenants. He also anticipates that it will raise his property values.
Kevin Brown, owner of R&B Cellars — one of several wineries to open along Richmond’s waterfront in the past few years — said the former shipyard is “on an upswing.”
When Brown opened his business three years ago, restaurants and tech companies were already moving into the ramshackle warehouses that dot Richmond’s waterfront. He sees the addition of the ferry as part of that evolution.
“The nice thing is that now it will be easier for people to get to us from San Francisco,” he said.