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Could a floating pool save SF’s crumbling waterfront? New York City tried it

A proposed development along Piers 30-32 in San Francisco, shown here in an architectural rendering, may include the city’s first public floating pool along with new office spaces, retail shops and residential housing. | Courtesy Strada Investment Group and Trammel Crow

A floating pool could be coming to San Francisco’s waterfront as local leaders look for creative ways to revitalize the Embarcadero Pier. But regulatory red tape may stand in the way of the project, according to a design firm that had similar plans in New York City. 

As San Francisco looks to lure back tourists, state Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed legislation that would rebuild Piers 30-32 to introduce shops, office spaces and an Olympic-size swimming pool to the currently dilapidated waterfront. 

The project has support from Mayor London Breed and other community leaders, who are hopeful that the legislation could bring hundreds of new housing units as well as a new tourist attraction to the Embarcadero.

A proposed development along Piers 30-32 could include the city’s first public floating pool. | Courtesy Strada Investment Group and Trammel Crow

But a design firm that had a similar proposal to build a floating swimming pool in New York City in 2010 told The Standard that San Franciscans shouldn’t hold their breath. 

Despite settling on a location over two years ago and obtaining support from the city’s mayor, the New York City design firm + Pool’s proposal for a floating swimming pool in the East River still sits in “regulatory permitting land,” according to the project’s managing director Kara Meyer. 

“We naively thought it could be produced much more swiftly,” Meyer told The Standard. “But there’s no existing regulatory structure for the kind of thing that we proposed.” 

And regulatory hurdles aren't the only barriers the project faces. When The Standard posted this story to Instagram, comments flooded in—almost all negative.

Many comments focused on practical issues: cost and priority.

"Terrible idea. Go back to trying to figure out how to fix the issues we have," wrote one commenter. Another self-described "serious pool-lover" wrote that "prioritizing affordable housing and other life-endangering issues should take [priority]."

Other comments questioned whether the pool would be warm enough for comfortable swimming, and also whether the proposed development would mean the end of a beloved local business located at Pier 30—Red's Java House.

The San Francisco legislation proposes enlarging the bay, completely rebuilding the piers and paving a path for a 725-unit apartment building across the street. 

Along with the city's first public floating pool, a proposed development along Piers 30-32 may include new office spaces, retail shops, residences and other amenities. | Courtesy Strada Investment Group and Trammel Crow

The proposal estimates that the total project would cost $1.4 billion, which would be covered by revenue from the new office spaces, according to Wiener. Wiener described the proposal as both a new attraction and a necessary infrastructure upgrade for the city's famous waterfront.

The proposed floating pool development project along Piers 30-32 could cost up to $1.4 billion. | Courtesy Strada Investment Group and Trammel Crow

However, if the legislation is passed, the project must still go through the usual permitting and environmental evaluation processes.

“Piers 30-32 is literally falling apart,” Wiener said in a press release. “We need to rebuild it and make it fully accessible to the public.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at
Michaela Neville can be reached at

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