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181 Fremont Speaks with Mark Zabaneh of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority

March 6, 2018


When a municipal project changes the face and the rhythm of a city, there is always a visionary behind it. As the Salesforce Transit Center takes shape in the space adjacent to 181 Fremont, Mark Zabaneh, civil engineer and executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, will be watching a dream of urban renewal become a reality.

Zabaneh arrives at the helm with 26 years of experience working on major initiatives at the California Department of Transportation. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Zabaneh has overseen $10 billion in projects, including the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore. However, no project in his career, or in the recent history of the city, for that matter, comes close to the Salesforce Transit Center’s unique balance of culture and function. Salesforce Center is about to transform the way San Franciscans connect to the rest of the Bay Area, the state, and the world.

“This kind of project is unique in anyone’s portfolio because of the huge access to transportation it will be creating,” Zabaneh said when we spoke with him about what makes Salesforce Center special; how it will benefit the residents of 181 Fremont; and where he and his team found inspiration. “We envision it to be a go-to destination similar to other landmarks in the city and SF Bay area.”

“The main part of the project,” he emphasized, “is bringing the train that will go straight to LA.”

According to Zabaneh, this will be a major benefit to the residents of 181 Fremont, who will be able, once the rail line is complete, to step out of their front door and end up in Los Angeles in two and a half hours. Zabaneh is also eager to illustrate the immediate benefits residents of 181 Fremont will enjoy without even leaving the complex, which he envisions as a retail and cultural center that will be a destination in and of itself. The Center’s roof will provide residents with a five-acre park, complete with a restaurant and community activities, comprising a public space that Zabaneh says was very much inspired by New York City’s Bryant Park.

Zabaneh has been keenly aware of the challenges of making such a massive undertaking a reality. “Seeking funding and gaining stakeholder buy-in for such a large and complex endeavor take a tremendous amount of effort, energy, and innovation,” he explained. The fact that the Salesforce Center is coming to fruition is a testament to Zabaneh’s expertise and to the “tremendous” rewards it will afford the community and city. As he retraced some of his process, Zabaneh described the thrill of “achieving the complex and unique design of the building,” which had to be a perfect melding of form and function.

In addition to the elements of architectural and urban planning innovation that define the Salesforce Transit project, renewal is a special priority: “We are able to transform the entire neighborhood from undervalued and underutilized real estate into a new pedestrian-friendly transit-oriented development with new homes, offices, hotels, and parks serving not only the city of San Francisco, but the entire SF Bay area.”