Abdul Nasser was visiting Treasure Island on a lovely spring day with his kids three years ago when he went off in search of some snacks and sodas for the kids.
To his surprise, he could not find any.
Three years later, Nasser has opened the island’s first deli, a convenience store located in what was a guard station near the island’s entrance. He says business is brisk.
“There is an unbelievable number of people out here looking to support a business like this,” he said.
Nasser is one of a growing number of people setting up businesses on Treasure Island in anticipation of a major redevelopment that is still several years away. The redevelopment plan calls for 6,000 new residential units, 420 hotel rooms, 235,000 square feet of retail and 300 acres of open space. The developers behind the project are Wilson Meany Sullivan and Kenwood Investments.
For the Treasure Island Development Authority, running the island represents a balancing act between future dreams and the current realities, according to general manager Mirian Saez. On the one hand, there is the Treasure Island of the future, a super sustainable dense neighborhood of 10,000 or more residents with organic farms and a high-speed ferry whisking residents to the Ferry Building every 10 minutes. But the reality is that the Navy has still not transferred the property to the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority. And that milestone, which will probably happen in 2010, will only represent the start of a multi-year entitlement process requiring a lengthy environmental impact study. With the economy in turmoil and the housing market weak, it could easily be another five years before construction starts.
In the meantime Saez, who was formerly real estate director for the Port of San Francisco, said she sees her role as laying the foundation for the new Treasure Island by bringing as many visitors and businesses to the island as possible.
“The more people who come here now during this transition period, the more people who will be jazzed up about the future neighborhood here,” said Saez.
In addition, Saez has to make sure the island, which has a $12 million budget, is self-sufficient. Treasure Island has about 800 housing units and roughly 3,000 residents. “The money we make on housing rent, commercial rents and special events pays for everything from the lights to filling the potholes to salaries and services to the island residents,” said Saez. “It behooves us to make money.”
On the map
When she took over as executive director, Saez was shocked at how many “native sons” of San Francisco had never stepped foot on the island. Treasure Island, created from bay mud for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, became a naval station in 1941, with the federal government leasing the island from the city. It was the home of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. Following World War II, it was primarily used as a naval training and administrative center, with about 3,000 military and 1,000 civilian personnel working there. The base was decommissioned in 1993 by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The Pentagon then gave San Francisco and the Treasure Island Development Authority responsibility for converting Treasure Island to civilian use.
Since then, two of the island’s hangars have been home to several film productions, including Rent and the recent, Oscar-nominated Milk, but most of the buildings have been empty. Since 2006, revenue on commercial space has jumped from $35,000 a month to $126,000 a month. The island has an annual budget of $12 million, most of which is generated through income from residential rents. New tenants include Bay Bridge construction firm C.C. Myers Inc., which has 275,000 square feet on the island. Yerba Buena Contractors recently moved to the island from 1000 Brannan St.
The Treasure Island Development Authority has also recently created a joint venture with Wine Valley Catering to run all the weddings and corporate events on the island. Wine Valley does an average of five or six events on a weekend during the summer and two or three during the slower season. In addition to Wine Valley’s 100 employees, the joint venture employs about a dozen formerly homeless workers who are trained through the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative.
Wine Valley Catering Manager Steve Sarna said the TIDA has been able to expand special event opportunities by renovating the library ballroom and building a new “Pavilion By the Bay,” which will be complete this spring and will accommodate weddings up to 300 people.
“It’s getting people more excited about Treasure Island — it’s one of San Francisco’s jewels, and people really need to come out here and see what we offer,” said Sarna. “I think it has been neglected for too long.”
In addition to money, Saez wants to bring as many residents to the island as possible. In her two years running the island, she has pushed to bring in a slew of sports leagues, including Gaelic football and rugby. In addition, the Treasure Island Music Festival has brought 10,000 alternative rock fans the last two Septembers, and Oracle has held its employee appreciation day there, bringing more than 30,000 people to the island to hear performances by Elvis Costello and others. The island’s new marketing slogan is “recreation destination.” At the beginning of May, the island’s only full-service restaurant and bar is expected to open.
“To come to Treasure Island is to fall in love with it,” Saez said. “The more people who come see us here, the more likely these people will come back and be part of the community of the future.”
Patrick O’Hara, a partner in Yerba Buena Construction, said the island is a perfect home because the company does equal amounts of work in the city and the East Bay. In addition, O’Hara hopes the company’s on the ground floor will help it win contracts once work starts on the island’s massive redevelopment.
“We wanted to keep a finger on the pulse of what was going on out here,” said O’Hara.