SF is embarking on a plan to “lift” the Embarcadero by as much as seven feet to address rising sea levels, but the Ferry Building’s operator is not taking kindly to the notion that the building could be shut down for years.

Conversations have been going on for a couple years about SF’s ambitious, potentially $13.5 billion plan to raise the Embarcadero by up to seven feet to prevent catastrophic flooding as we confront the inevitable rising sea levels from climate change. And when we reported this past January that the US Army Corps of Engineers unveiled their draft plan to lift the Embarcadero by what could indeed be seven feet, we wondered what an over-budget, yearslong tribulation that would entail considering this city needed seven years and about $350 million just to put red bus lanes on Van Ness Avenue.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with that exact same concern. This week the Chronicle reported that the operator of the SF Ferry Building, Hudson Pacific Properties, was not at all pleased with the likelihood of the Ferry Building’s likely years-long closure. In a letter to the Port of San Francisco and the Army Corps of Engineers, Hudson Pacific also noted that the “recent experience of the Van Ness Corridor improvement project creates significant concern that a wholesale closure of the Embarcadero will cripple the waterfront for years to come.”

(The plan to raise SF's sea wall is still in its public comment phase, and you too can express your support or displeasure to the emails listed on this page under the heading “Public Input”.)

Now granted, this project would be run by the US Army Corps of Engineers, not San Francisco City Hall. So it's fair to expect a far more professionally handled project than the Van Ness bus lane fiasco. Though yes, I realize that Hurricane Katrina victims would not share my high opinion of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hudson Pacific’s letter continued, “While mitigating flood and seismic risks are important, without a more detailed technical study, it is impossible to weigh the risks posed against the cost of shutting down one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures, quite possibly for many years.”

They certainly have a point that the Ferry Building is currently a downtown office and retail success story, in a downtown that currently has far more failure stories. The Chronicle points out the Ferry Building is currently 98% leased. This plan would displace all those offices and retailers, for a period that almost surely would be longer than the initial projections, and would probably take years.

And while the federal government would likely foot most of that $13.5 billion bill, their help is no certainty either. Congress is expected to vote on this funding package in 2026, and they might not pass it. Consider also that we could have a climate change denier as president in 2026, or in charge of one or both houses of Congress.

For their part, the port says they will handle plans deliberately and respectfully, and it’s in the long-term interests of the Ferry Building to be lifted.

“Protecting the iconic Ferry Building is a key goal of the plan, and the strategy to raise it is intended to save the historic and beloved structure from flooding,” Port of SF spokesperson Eric Young told the Chronicle. “We will take extreme care to minimize construction impacts to the people who visit and work in the Ferry Building, the tenants who make their livelihoods there, and Hudson Pacific.”

Image: CMG Landscape Architects and Sitelab

As the above graphic shows, there are many parts of SF that will be dramatically affected by the Army Corps of Engineers’ current plan to raise the city’s the city’ shoreline. So this is one of numerous political and PR battles ahead for the plan. But given the Ferry Building’s outsize local status, this may be the most contentious one. And given the Ferry Building’s outsize size, this might also be the most logistically difficult and risky part of the plan.

Related: Army Corps of Engineers Unveils Plan to Raise the Embarcadero as Much as 7 Feet for Rising Sea Levels [SFNews]

Image: JaGa via Wikimedia Commons