San Francisco Is Creating Its Own Governors Island

Treasure Island will turn into a major cultural destination under new, multi-billion dollar plan

Treasure Island
Soon, this island will become a cultural treasure. Treasure Island Community Development/SFAC

When New York redeveloped the city-adjacent ​Governors Island, it turned the former military post into a major cultural destination that artists flock to. But Manhattan certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on bays or fabulous art—and now, reports The New York Times’ Jori Finkel, San Francisco wants to get in on the action with a major redevelopment of Treasure Island.

The artificial isle in the Bay has deep cultural roots. It was built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, a world’s fair that turned the man-made island into a place to view everything from scantily clad cowgirls to live mural-painting by Diego Rivera.

Now, it’s set to get new life with an arts investment that will bring monumental artwork, cultural opportunities and restored public spaces to the island. The plan, which took years to develop, will take 20 years to fulfill—but when it’s complete, city officials hope they’ll have a destination that puts the much smaller Governors Island to shame.

As The New York Times’ Matt A.V. Chaban notes, the Governors Island project has taken more than 10 years and over $300 million. The Treasure Island project is comparably ambitious. According to the San Francisco Arts Commission, it will draw on a 1 percent public art tax built into the city’s planning code and levied on private developers. As Finkel reports, the commission plans to spend almost $50 million on private artwork over the next two decades.

Art is just the beginning—as SF Gate’s Charles Desmarais reports, the master plan also includes a hotel, a new ferry terminal and development of high-end housing (with 25 to 30 percent of the housing earmarked for affordable housing units). But the arts funding isn’t set in stone. Desmarais notes that funding is contingent on development costs, and that it will be paid out over 20 years. And San Francisco, which is in the midst of sweeping gentrification, may not welcome the news of even more expensive housing in a city with some of the least affordable housing in the nation.

Will Treasure Island be a beacon or a flop? Only time will tell. But while the project kicks off, you can get involved: The commission will soon ask the public for suggestions about what art to install.

Update, June 19, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect that the development will include affordable housing units. 

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