Salesforce Transit Center brings an “Entirely New Neighborhood” to 181 Fremont

The new Transbay Transit Center, also known as the “Salesforce Transit Center,” is about to change the face of Downtown San Francisco. With a sky bridge connecting directly to 181 Fremont, this unprecedented transit hub, park, and retail center, dubbed “an entirely new neighborhood” by facility manager Martha Aragon Velez, is a physical extension of the building. Residents of 181 Fremont will be living at the intersection of two of the most important architectural projects San Francisco has seen in years, which means they will experience the expansion of urban possibility in San Francisco as it happens.

“Intersection” is the key word. With Colliers International at the helm of retail and dining plans that will cover 100,000 square feet, function expands into pleasure and unexpected discovery. The recreational shopper drawn to PRI’s innovative lead on the 21st-century shopping experience included in the Transit Center, which will include multiple pop-up retail shops, such as vending machines filled with puffer jackets, artisanal crafts, and fashion trucks, will also have a sense of connection to the greater San Francisco area and the world at large when shopping in the space of the Transit Center. Biederman Redevelopment Ventures was inspired in part by its work at New York City’s Bryant Park, bringing a similar vision to the Center’s rooftop park that will include a multitude of activities and events, making it a cultural center for the neighborhood.

A high-speed train to LA is slated for 2029, making this a hub whose importance will only grow over the years. As civil engineer Mark Zabaneh, who came on board to helm the Transbay Joint Powers Authority after 26 years of working with Caltrans, said, “The Salesforce Center is a model transit-oriented development connecting 11 transit systems in one location.” Eight bus lines are set to connect the East Bay, North Bay, and the Peninsula by the spring of next year, and plans are in the works to bring Caltrain directly to Downtown San Francisco.

A transit hub that is also an architectural attraction is the perfect place from which to build an urban mecca that is constantly in flux, like a microcosm of the city itself, functioning on multiple levels at any given moment. Zabaneh emphasizes, “The point is to have it all in one space.” And if that space can become a major retail center, a dining destination, and an extension of a 5.4-acre rooftop park—as this space is about to become—the richest rewards go to denizens of the neighborhood—and the residents of 181 Fremont in particular. The Salesforce Center’s design meets so many of the needs of San Franciscans, and, on the way, it turns itself into a city within a city that is much more than the sum of its parts.

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

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.”

181 Speaks with Jill Lonergan & Chris Conrad of Level 10 Construction

Even with our 21st-century daily familiarity with skyscrapers that touch the sky, we look up and wonder: how is it possible to build this? Level 10 Construction looks at a blueprint and asks another question: how can we achieve this in such a way that we exceed all expectations of completion, quality, and safety? How can we not only build something great, but something exquisitely crafted that takes what we thought was possible and pushes it beyond that limit?

What Level 10 brings to the construction of 181 Fremont is a model of how brilliant design and construction can take next-level dreams and make reality exceed them. Here we speak with Jill Lonergan, Level 10’s NorCal Marketing Director, and Senior Project Manager Chris Conrad about Level 10 and the construction of 181 Fremont.

Jill Lonergan, NorCal Marketing Director

What are some of the most notable projects Level 10 has worked on?

Level 10 has completed projects for the Moffett Place Campus, Moffett Towers II Campus, Facebook MPK 20, Central & Wolfe, HGST South Bay Initiative, SilevoSolar California Technology Center, K3 in San Diego, and the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art renovation.

What sets Level 10 apart from other construction firms? How are these differences evident in the building of 181 Fremont?

Innovation. Safety. An outstanding example of both is the cantilevered safety net that Senior Superintendent Chris Wilcox designed and had installed above an adjacent (and historic) brick building with a childcare playground on the roof. The 181 Fremont team met with GLL Real Estate Partners, the owners of the adjacent building, to recommend and highlight the plans for a $1.5 million safety netting system to be installed to protect the children and staff from falling debris. A handful of concerns were expressed by the daycare program and GLL, including disruption of daily activities and the obstruction of daylight. All concerns were addressed, and the final design of the system was approved.

During this phase, the 181 Fremont team met with the daycare managers continuously to insure they were kept in the loop and were able to address any issues with the netting design and future installation. At this point, we performed a drop test to evaluate and adjust retention. Once design and installation were approved for the safety net system, it was critical to test its load capacity. For this test, Level 10 built a mock-up of the system on a heavy-duty scaffolding structure that would eventually be installed over the playground. Four-hundred-pound sand bags were dropped at increments of 25 feet while readings were taken to study how the netting took the load. (You can see our drop test video here:

Another vital factor in how we work is building relationships. Level 10 has maintained strong neighborhood relations throughout the life of this technically complex project.

What’s unique about the design and construction of 181 Fremont that people might not realize at first?Building 181 Fremont actually presented some uniquely challenging logistics which required intensive pre-task planning; coordination of the multiple subcontractors; and site-specific safety requirements.

We also had to contend with the challenge of creating below-grade (underground) parking. The 181 Fremont team constructed deep below-grade parking, and this required a thorough understanding of the area’s soil and water table conditions.

Another factor that was unique on this project was the way it required strong communication with local agencies. The 181 Fremont team worked closely with a multitude of city and county inspectors and agencies, including Muni, PG&E, SF Department of Public Works, SF Planning & Building Department, SF Fire Marshal, SF Health Department, and, of huge importance, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. Our ability to build strong relationships with these agencies allowed us to quickly and efficiently secure the necessary approvals and permits for the project.

Chris Conrad, Senior Project Manager

How central is the question of resilience and seismic activity to your building practice—and to building 181 Fremont in particular? 

181 Fremont falls under 2010 building codes, which incorporated a higher safety standard as a result of the World Trade Center collapses and the lessons learned from the San Francisco and Northridge earthquakes. Specifically, 181 Fremont has shock absorbers to compensate for lateral stability and sway.

What is the current status of construction on 181 Fremont? Which elements are the last to take shape?

181 Fremont is nearing all its city agencies’ inspections for the core and shell structure. Following this milestone, the residential units have monthly turnover dates through the end of May 2018. A confidential technology client recently signed a lease for the entire commercial space, and the complete buildout will extend beyond this date and is currently under development.

How closely did Level 10 collaborate and coordinate with the architects at Heller Manus and the design firm ODADA, the structural engineering firm Arup, the MEP engineering firm WSP, and the Transbay Transit Center?

Daily coordination with each of these entities occurs either formally or informally. As critical partners in this building’s success, all parties collaborate for its successful completion.