Three San Francisco developers discussed the “lifetime of work” involved in creating the city’s Mission Bay mixed-use development during the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) session at the 2020 ULI Virtual Fall Meeting.

Taking part were Andrea Jones, senior director of development, Mission Point, at Kylli Development; Terezia Nemeth, executive vice president/regional market director at Alexandria Real Estate Equities; and Charmaine Curtis, principal at Curtis Development. They were joined by Kelly Nagel, WLI chair, and Elizabeth Seifel, president of Seifel Consulting.

Mission Bay, a 303-acre (123 ha) development nearing completion adjacent to downtown, is on the former site of a salt marsh and lagoon. Beginning in the 1800s, the area became the dumping ground for all the city’s debris, most notably from the 1906 earthquake, said Jones. “This continued until it was filled in, at which point the area developed into an industrial zone with factories, warehouses, and railroads,” she said. “Today, the area is vastly different and is home to commercial buildings, neighborhoods, a university, and public parks.”

The development of this area has not been easy.

“There were no streets, no infrastructure, no sewers, no water, no electricity—nothing,” said Nemeth. “We had to not only think about what might work, but how do you even begin building that.” The development plan changed and adapted over time, in what Nemeth calls “a lifetime of work on this project.”

“We spent countless hours trying to figure out what ‘would work, what would work, what would work,’ but nothing really penciled,” Jones said. The developers ultimately made the decision to “just jump-start this neighborhood, possibly have some loss leaders, but create a place where people wanted to live and work.”

With 90 percent of the development now completed, it appears that approach has borne fruit.

Mission Bay is now home to 6,000 units of housing, 30 percent of which is affordable; a 43-acre (17 ha) campus for the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); 4.5 million square feet (418,000 sq m) of commercial and biotech space; 43 acres of public parks; and 400,000 square feet (37,000 sq m) of neighborhood-serving retail space, Jones said. The development is also the site of a UCSF hospital, Uber’s headquarters, and Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors NBA team. These were part of the original plan, but as Nemeth notes, “You need to change to make a project like this work.”

An interesting aspect of the project is that Catellus Development donated 40 acres (16.2 ha) of the site to the University of California, which is now the UCSF campus. Nemeth notes this was made possible by Willie Brown, then mayor of San Francisco. “Catellus had an approved project that collapsed in the ’80s,” Nemeth said. When the company went to Brown, it requested a second entitlement of 308 acres. Brown agreed, but on the condition that the company “give the university of San Francisco 40 acres of land,” Nemeth said. “Give.

This was important: UCSF now serves as “the anchor tenant, very similar to Macy’s or Nordstrom at a shopping mall,” Nemeth said. The other “tenants” are biotech firms, which account for much of the commercial space.

A significant aspect of the development is the affordable housing. “It is the first 100 percent affordable housing for-sale project developed in San Francisco in some time,” said Curtis, who is responsible for the nine-story housing development. The project will hold 148 units, which Curtis said she hopes will be sold out by 2025.

She emphasized both her firm’s and the city’s dedication to making this housing available to displaced families in the city. “There was huge displacement created by redevelopment in the ’60s,” said Curtis. “We are going to do our best to reach out to [certificate of preference holders] to give them counseling to prepare for homeownership.”

The rarity of such a project is attributable to the level of subsidy, Curtis notes. “I don’t think there are going to be a lot more projects like this built in San Francisco,” she said. Financial products are scarce for assisting people “in the missing middle,” she noted—those in the middle 80 percent of income. Subsequent housing developed at Mission Bay will be affordable rental housing, she said.

With Mission Bay on the cusp of being complete, the panelists were confident of the ability of the project, as well as San Francisco as a whole, to rebound from COVID-19.

“San Francisco is a world-class city, and we will bounce back,” said Curtis. Jones agreed, adding that though some people are moving out, “the units are selling again. . . . They are getting solid asking offers.” And though some tech companies are not coming back to the office very quickly, Nemeth noted that is the nature of life science companies. “Most of Mission Bay’s commercial space is biotech research, and you can’t do that in your kitchen,” she said.

SEAN WALLISCH is an advertising associate at ULI.