With the pandemic sticking around for a whole lot longer than anyone had hoped, the past year has been another challenging one for tradespeople and all working people.
We are fortunate to live in a great city in an economic powerhouse of a state. So, despite the rather low number of currently active projects (and new ones) relative to the boom years heading into COVID-19, there were a great many construction projects approved, kicked off, or finished in 2021 that merit mention.
This year, we’ve placed our top projects into four different categories — best overall, best-managed, best design, and greatest economic impact — and named what we think are the best two to three builds in each category.
Scroll down and read on to see what came out on top.
Transbay Program Phase 2
Location: South of Market
General Contractor: TBA
With its first phase completed in 2018, when the Salesforce Transit Center was opened, the Transbay Program has already been a game-changer for mobility across the Bay Area and beyond. Yet the 100% union work is far from over.
Five million work-hours paid by federal funding are already in the bag, and now a huge additional allocation is set to deliver about 10 million more hours for tenant improvement work, laying high-speed rail, and more — and all of it will be covered under the original PLA that was signed in 2011 by the SF Building Trades and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.
A just-announced $4.5 billion federal allocation to Bay Area transit, part of the Biden administration’s big new infrastructure deal, puts Phase 2 officially on the horizon.
Most of the transit center’s six-story structure is complete. Commercial tenants now have their sights set on 60,000 square feet of retail space ready for construction on a mezzanine level above a subterranean train box. What’s currently an empty shell will be transformed into a major high-speed rail station connecting SF to San Jose and eventually Sacramento and Los Angeles, above which will be shopping and dining aplenty.
So, while it’s still yet to kick off, we’re confident in calling this project the overall best of the year. That’s because after two very tough years, this is just the thing we need right now. It inspires real hope for 2022 and beyond. The revolutionary transit infrastructure that’ll connect California’s biggest cities and the influx of restaurants and retail that will boost our local economy — all of it built out by all-union labor — will help to both revitalize our city and put tradespeople from a plethora of crafts back to work.
Developers: SF Public Utilities Commission, Carollo Engineers
General Contractors: Sundt, Walsh Construction
The SF Public Utilities Commission has invested more than $2 billion to modernize the Southeast Treatment Plant, a sewer system facility that was constructed in 1952 and has notoriously plagued the surrounding Bayview community with odors. This vital piece of infrastructure is the city’s largest wastewater pollution treatment plant. Work began in 2018 to get it seismically safe, prepared for sea-level rise, operationally efficient, and friendlier with its neighbors. It has received the Gold Envision award for sustainable infrastructure.
When it first arrives at the treatment plant, 80% of San Francisco’s wastewater takes a trip through the Headworks Facility, where debris and grit are removed from the stream in order to protect downstream equipment and better control foul smells. The $618 million Headworks revamp entails a brand-new facility, an upgrade to the Bruce Flynn Pump Station (which controls stormwater), seismic enhancements to withstand a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, and improved operational reliability. The new facility is slated for completion in 2024 and will process 250 million gallons of wastewater per day.
In addition to the project team signing a PLA that has resulted in solid work hours for building trades members, it also committed to hiring locally, emphasizing historically disadvantaged groups. A $3.15 million investment in workforce development and another $1.35 million in local economic development — alongside a CityWorks Internship Program to help residents enter the engineering and design fields — are some of the many contributions the project makes to Bayview.
UCSF Research and Academic Building at ZSFG
Location: Between the Mission and Potrero Hill
Developer: The UCSF-ZSFG Partnership
General Contractor: The Boldt Company
Through a partnership with the City and County of San Francisco, UCSF is building a five-story facility to bring state-of-the-art medical research, teaching, and administrative space to the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center Campus.
Work began in 2020 on the site, located between 23rd Street and Building 5, and includes a new road that workers completed on the north side of the facility.
The 175,000-square-foot building is estimated to cost $275 million and will replace several UCSF offices and labs in seismically outdated buildings. Additionally, the facility will house a patient research center and education space, including a surgical training facility and biomechanics testing lab.
A great many tradespeople have been out of work this past year, but the UCSF project has supplied vital work hours — particularly to about 50 Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 members, who have been on the job since March doing HVAC and architectural sheet metal flashing.
UCSF has committed to ensuring that 30% of construction jobs go to local residents recruited by Mission Hiring Hall. The university also contributed about $1.1 million to CityBuild Academy for a five-week course for local job seekers to receive pre-apprenticeship training.
Thurgood Marshall Academic High School Improvements
Location: Southeastern SF
Developer: SF Unified School District
General Contractor: Wickman Development and Construction
This year, a general modernization project has been underway at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, 45 Conkling Street in the city’s southeast end, by the SFUSD. Founded in 1994, Thurgood Marshall High prepares a diverse student body for college and vocational careers.
The work, which involves many local trades unions, entails ADA accessibility reconstruction, fire and life safety upgrades, structural upgrades, general improvements to classrooms and administrative spaces, and the construction of interim housing. Asbestos found at the aging facility was also torn out.
Working for subcontractor ALCAL, Roofers Local 40 members have been working for months to install a brand-new roof atop the school and get the school fully waterproofed. Several trades have faced material constraints caused by ongoing supply chain issues, and for the roofers, this resulted in delays while waiting for insulation. Despite these challenges, the remodeling work has represented the pinnacle of construction standards and project management and will provide a safer, healthier, and more up-to-date place for the city’s students to learn and grow.
With ALCAL paying above prevailing wages, the atmosphere on the jobsite has remained positive and professional. With a portion of the work already complete, some classrooms have reopened to students while other areas are still cordoned off to keep the school community free from construction hazards.
BART Escalator Modernization
Location: Beneath the City Streets
Manager: Schindler Elevator
San Francisco’s heavily trodden escalators churn for millions of hours to get people where they need to go. Since the escalators at the Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell and Civic stations were partially replaced 20 years ago, debris, brake dust and maintenance grease have accumulated, alongside a level of wear and tear that your average mall escalator would never experience.
For over a year, mechanics from Elevator Constructors Local 8 working for Schindler Elevator have been busy at the stations undertaking the most labor-intensive job known in the industry: dismantling the over-40-year old escalators down to their skeletons, cleaning them, and welding them.
After that’s done, Local 8’s elevator mechanics will install Schindler’s new equipment. They also have to construct special platforms to lower bulky equipment down into the station.
The job is as dirty as they come, but public safety is top priority for the tradespeople of Local 8, who are performing the equivalent of open-heart surgery for the public transit system. To keep the stations up and running, barricades are put around an area under service while other entrances remain open to keep travelers away from the dangerous work zone. Due to the piecemeal approach, the project will take about eight years to complete.
In the meantime, between 12 and 15 Local 8 members have a steady supply of fully funded work hours ahead of them led by Schindler managers, who have established a strong sense of mutual trust and clear communication with workers. When challenges arise, safety is prioritized, and a spirit of collaboration drives solutions.
One Steuart Lane
Location: South Beach
Developers: The John Buck Company, Paramount Group, SRE Group
General Contractor: Swinerton Builders
A monumental ultra-luxury condo tower is nearing completion on San Francisco’s waterfront along the Embarcadero. Offering sweeping views of the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, and beyond, One Steuart Lane is a stacked-mass structure that rises to 220 feet and contains 120 residences and 4,500 square feet of retail across its 20 floors.
It’s all wrapped up in a stunning ultra-clear glass facade.
The tower is one of several recent high-profile all-union projects sure to impact the city’s skyline. Condo units ranging from 839 to 3,000 square feet and penthouses up to 6,200 square feet feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sprawling outdoor terraces.
The project provided Glaziers Local 718 members employed by subcontractor Enclos with the opportunity to showcase their peak craftsmanship skills. On some units, glaziers installed massive sliding-glass balcony doors measuring 19 feet by 10 feet and weighing in at over 1,000 pounds using a robotic power suction cup attached to a crane.
In the lobby entryway, a canopy of two 3,000-pound laminated glass pieces hangs suspended using a fastening system also made of glass. In addition to the iconic glass exterior, glaziers also imbued the building with a prominent combination-stone-and-aluminum facade treatment. The finished product is a sight to behold.
Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (a.k.a. ‘The Biodigester’)
Developers: SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), MWH Constructors, Webcor Builders
General Contractor: SFPUC
Part of the Sewer System Improvement Project to upgrade the Southeast Treatment Plant in Bayview, the $1.6 billion Biosolids Digester Facilities Project is replacing and relocating existing but outdated solid waste treatment facilities built in the 1940s with modern ones.
A product of the wastewater treatment process, biosolids are nutrient-rich, similar to soil, and can be used as a synthetic fertilizer or soil amendment. The SFPUC is working with an MWH-Webcor joint venture, locating the digesters farther away from residential areas to reduce odor impacts and increase the overall quality of life and aesthetics for the community. The new biodigesters will produce higher-quality Class-A biosolids that will emit less odor thanks to a thermal hydrolysis process that will also produce energy.
The 400,000-square-foot facilities will have five above-grade and four below-grade levels able to capture and treat odors more effectively, produce more than 1 million gallons of recycled water per day, and maximize biogas utilization and energy recovery. In addition, workers are equipping the structures to withstand a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and be resilient against 36 inches of sea-level rise.
In addition to providing more attractive structures for the neighborhood and helping to fund local public art, the project also relies on local resident union labor and local contractors.
1177 Market at Trinity Place
Developer: Trinity Properties
General Contractor: Swinerton Builders
Although San Francisco’s Mid-Market lost considerable steam during the pandemic, building trades members have been busy at work in the neighborhood on several housing projects that, it is hoped, will prove to be transformative. One such project is the 500-unit building known as 1177 Market at Trinity Place, which also features a 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, fitness centers, rooftop decks, up to 11-foot ceiling heights, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
The building is part of a larger 1,900-unit Trinity Place development in the final phase of construction by general contractor Swinerton, with some of the contemporary apartment units already leased. The project provides expansive views of the SF skyline and neighborhoods.
Members of Elevator Constructors Local 8 employed by Otis Elevator installed eight high-end cabs designed by Alameda-based Unique Elevator Interiors, which is also a Local 8 signatory company that helped realize the vision of architecture firm BAMO early on in the process. No expense was spared on the woven-metal bronze and stainless steel elevators, which feature both perimeter and base lighting, smoked mirrors, and granite floors. Each costing about $85,000, the elevator cabs effectively integrated premium materials for a remarkable finished product.
Greatest Economic Impact
Location: Mission Bay
Developers: San Francisco Giants, Tishman Speyer Properties
General Contractors: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction, Nibbi Brothers, Swinerton Builders, Webcor Builders
Mission Rock represents a new mixed-use neighborhood for the city’s waterfront at Mission Creek and San Francisco Bay adjacent to Oracle Park. Replacing 28 acres of underutilized land, including surface parking at Seawall Lot 337, the project will deliver 8 acres of publicly accessible open space, up to 1,500 rental units (40% of them affordable), 1.4 million square feet of lab and office space, and 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
In addition to below-market-rate rents for nonprofit and arts organizations, a “Maker’s Row” will dedicate space for local manufacturers. Work also entails sea-level-rise resiliency, historic rehabilitation of Pier 48, and improved public access to the Blue Greenway Trail.
It’s estimated that the project will create 13,500 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs and supply city services with $25 million annually.
After years of negotiation, the SF Building Trades struck a PLA with the development team in 2019, securing good union wages and benefits, opportunities for local workers, and career paths for apprentices. Earlier this year, work began on Phase 1, with 23-story Building A to deliver 540 residences, 51,000 square feet of commercial space, a park, and retail and restaurant space.
The entire Mission Rock project is expected to be complete in 2025.
1001 Van Ness
Location: Cathedral Hill/Fillmore District/Van Ness Corridor
Developer: Coterie (Related Companies, Atria Senior Living)
General Contractor: Related Companies
A stately new 13-story tower is set to open its doors in March along one of the city’s most active corridors 1001 Van Ness. Its primary offering will be Coterie Cathedral Hill, a new senior residential care facility focused on the luxury set, with approximately 210 supportive housing units in a 13-story tower at the site of the former KRON-4 building. The project also adds 8,000 square feet of street-level retail to the neighborhood, plus 47 parking units within the facility.
Upstairs, the lucky first residents of 1001 Van Ness will enjoy their golden years in style, with amenities such as dining halls (there are five), a high-end restaurant, a bocce ball court, a rooftop swimming pool, and limo service.
Over the past six months, glaziers, like other trades, have experienced a decline in employment. The 1001 Van Ness project provides a vital work source for as many as 18 Local 718 members. That’s a rather large crew given that many jobs, on average, involve just two glaziers.
The work has entailed a high level of labor-intensive details, especially on the ceiling and glass connections. Though the project is wrapping up, about nine glaziers are still on the job adding meticulous finishing touches.
Subcontractor Highrise Glass employs the crew and has committed to hiring all union glaziers who live local to the Bay Area for the project.