Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, Developer Of Salesforce Transit Center: Part Four Of Her Story as told to Zennie62Media.
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As shared with Zennie62Media
On The 2007 International Design Competition For The Transbay Transit Center
The idea of challenging the designers to design an iconic and high-profile Transit Center came from Ms. Ayerdi Kaplan’s love of New York’s Grand Central Station Terminal. She lived in New York City as a child and always loved walking into Grand Central. The light emanating from the windows, the Clock in the center of the grand hall, the high ceilings and architecture, the hustle and bustle of people coming and going by train, always took her breath away.
To this day, Grand Central Terminal remains one of Maria’s favorite train stations in the world. She believed a world-class city like San Francisco should have a modern Grand Central Terminal of the West Coast (a term she originally coined) that would be loved by generations of travelers and visitors.
Maria challenged the designers to look to Grand Central in New York and create an inspiring and landmark design for San Francisco’s new gateway, with a concept that worked for its intended use as a transit facility for the buses, trains and the public and also was full of natural light, color, art, green spaces and educational and sustainable components.
Orange is Ayerdi Kaplan’s favorite color, so she selected it for some of the finishes inside the Center. Ms. Ayerdi’s request for natural light led to the inclusion of various skylights. Her memories of feeling larger than life in Grand Central Terminal in New York caused her to insist that the building’s design evoke a similar feeling once inside the new Center, which led to the 120-foot light column inside the Grand Hall.
Ms. Ayerdi decided to sponsor an international design competition for both the new Transit Center and the adjacent Transit Tower from the World Trade Center design competition in New York. Many people wanted her to just release a basic RFP, but she believed the new Center merited attention on an international scale to attract the best talent and input into the design.
Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan’s Salesforce Transit Center Land Acqusition Strategy
Maria Ayerdi Kaplan formed the idea of using the land to finance the project and, with the backing of Mayor Brown, developed a strategy to convince the State of the wisdom of transferring the almost 20 acres of land (worth over $660 million in sales and another billion in tax increment generated financing over 45 years) involved for the project.
The first approach she took was to obtain the land by way of state legislation. She wrote a bill that transferred title to the parcels to San Francisco and the TJPA at no cost and was able to have it sponsored by then Assemblywoman Dion Aroner. Caltrans opposed the bill, claiming the schedule for conveyance was too aggressive. Southern California’s Senator Kevin Murray opposed the bill because he believed Southern California should share in the proceeds of the sale of the State land involved. Ultimately, Ms. Ayerdi succeeded in getting the bill passed by the legislature, but it was vetoed by Governor Davis.
Due to the opposition of Caltrans and Senator Murray, Maria Ayerdi Kaplan decided to enlist the support of the one person who she believed could overcome the opposition – Senator John Burton. Maria contacted Senator John Burton and through a series of meetings she convinced him of the importance of a new transit center and the creation of a new neighborhood with a significant number of affordable housing units (of the approximate 4,400 new planned Transbay housing units, 35% must be affordable and on-site thanks to Senator Burton).
Once Ayerdi Kaplan had the Senator’s support, Caltrans was directed to work with her to negotiate something called a “Cooperative Agreement” that would convey title – a laborious process that eventually led to the execution of the final land transfer document in 2003 by the TJPA, City and County of San Francisco, and Caltrans. Subsequently, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) approved the Cooperative Agreement. Securing the approval of the CTC also entailed a tremendous amount of political and technical work on Ms. Ayerdi’s part.
The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency also created a redevelopment area, which allowed the TJPA to use tax increment financing from the land Ms. Ayerdi obtained from the State to fund the Transit Center’s soft and hard costs. When California Redevelopment Law was abolished by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Supreme Court, the State honored all of the TJPA’s pre-existing Redevelopment agreements. The reason? Governor Brown said the Transbay Project was the poster project for what Redevelopment was originally intended to accomplish.
It was the land that Caltrans transferred to San Francisco and the TJPA that allowed the TJPA to build the new Transit Center. And it was the new Transit Center that spurred all of the surrounding transit-oriented mixed-use development in the area with thousands of new residential units and millions of square feet of commercial space. In effect, Ms. Ayerdi built a new landmark station and changed the face of the San Francisco skyline.
Prior to Ms. Ayerdi’s retirement from public service, she negotiated and closed all of the real estate transactions critical to the Transit Center Project’s success, including land acquisitions with a value of nearly $100 million and the purchase of 26 private properties required for construction of the project. The land Ms. Ayerdi sold brought in $660 million and she secured the pledge of redevelopment tax increment revenue for another approximately $1 billion over 45 years in funding.
Maria was also able to secure millions of dollars in grants from state and federal sources, including a $171 million Department of Transportation TIFIA loan (Transbay was the first project in the United States to obtain a TIFIA loan with tax increment revenue from the land Ayerdi Kaplan got transferred from the State as the repayment source), a $400 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and an expected more than $600 million from a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District.
It took Maria years of meeting weekly with Caltrans to finalize the transfer of the land and luckily, she was able to do that prior to the recession. She was able to leverage the land through the creative public/private financing mechanisms mentioned above to build the new Center.
It cannot be emphasized enough that without the grant of land from Caltrans, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority would not have been able to build the new Salesforce Transit Center and the new Transbay neighborhood as we see it today would not have been possible.
Additionally, without the land that Ms. Ayerdi secured for the Project, the City and County of San Francisco and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) would not have been able to fund the last remaining amount needed to finish Phase 1 of the Transbay Program and complete the Salesforce Center.
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