Smooth sailing for developers - Page 3

America's Cup waterfront land giveaway has quietly expanded since the deal was approved — with Chiu's secret blessing

Green piers were part of the original Board of Supervisors agreement; those in yellow were added during closed-door negotiations

A high-rise next door to Seawall Lot 330, called the Watermark, currently has condos going for $1.2 million apiece on average, according to a calculation of online listings. Under the America's Cup deal approved by the board, the port would have received 1 percent of each condo sale plus 15 percent of transfers or subleases made by ACEA. "Such required payments ... have been entirely removed from the agreement as modified by the Mayor's Office and other city officials," the budget analyst's report points out.

Waterfront real estate in San Francisco, always expensive, has recently soared to even higher values. According to a June 22 article in the San Francisco Business Times, Farallon Capital Management recently put up for sale a 3.36-acre parcel in Mission Bay zoned for life science and tech office space — and it's expected to fetch around $90 million. This past April, BRE Properties shelled out $41.4 million for two Mission Bay residential development sites entitled for 360 residential units, and last year, acquired a 14-acre Mission Bay property for $278 million, or $140 per buildable square foot.

By comparison, the $55 million that ACEA must invest to be granted a two-acre waterfront parcel on the Embarcadero, plus long-term rights to lease and develop an additional 13 acres across the street, sounds like a good deal. "We're using an appraisal approach. It's not going to ridiculously undervalue the property," Benson said. Under changes made to the deal after the board signed off, base rent for Piers 30-32 will be $4 per square foot of building area. Rent for all other possible piers will be $6 per square foot of building area.

The ability to transfer city-owned Seawall Lot 330 outright to the ACEA is predicated on the approval by the State Lands Commission to strip that property of constraints placing it, like all coastal properties, in the public trust. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who pushed the deal as mayor, is one of the three members of that commission.

Under a provision in the agreement, the ACEA's $55 million investment will be applied toward rent credits on city-owned parcels — and depending on how much the company puts in, that credit balance can increase by 11 percent every year. Benson described this as a typical arrangement, saying, "It's not out of the line with other rent-credit deals the port has done."

Two former mayoral advisors from OEWD, Kyri McClellan and Alexandra Lonne, have since gone to work for the America's Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC), a nonprofit entity working in tandem with the city and the ACEA to secure financial commitments for hosting the race. Newsom has also been named ambassador at large for the America's Cup effort.

Meanwhile, an OEWD budget proposal includes $819,000 in staffing costs for four management-level positions relating to America's Cup planning. A refund is expected in the form of $12 million that the ACOC has committed to fundraise by the end of 2011, with an ultimate target of $32 million by 2013. So far, ACOC has only raised $2 million, but plans to seek higher donations once it gains tax-exempt status. "I think the $2 million is a really good start," said Mike Martin, who transferred in February from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to OEWD to direct the America's Cup effort. "They're building a foundation for an effective pitch."

For now, city departments are scrambling toward completing the environmental review process for the infrastructure improvements, expected to be complete sometime in November. "It's incredibly compressed," Martin said. "There's a lot to be done in a very short time."

Peskin, for his part, seemed be keeping a watchful eye on the unfolding America's Cup plans. "What we, the citizens of San Francisco, have to watch out for is that we're not being taken advantage of," he said. "We've got to be vigilant that we don't get taken to the cleaners."