Reporting Allen Martin
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — After KPIX 5 reported on Google’s mysterious project on a barge off Treasure Island, reports have surfaced of the tech giant building similar floating structures outside of the Bay Area.
A report appearing in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald showed shipping containers stacked on a barge in Maine – with the structure appearing virtually identical to the Bay Area barge. Also, an unconfirmed report suggested a Google barge is taking shape in New London, Connecticut.
On Friday, the tech website CNET first disclosed the barge building and speculated Google might be building a floating data center to house server banks on the water. KPIX subsequently reported Friday evening Google is actually building the floating structures to market Google Glass — the cutting edge wearable computer that the company has under development.
“They’re building on both coasts,” said a source familiar with the Google project.
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Google, for its part, maintained a stolid silence on the matter, as did many Bay Area maritime officials. Google is reliably said to have spent upwards of $10 million on the project so far. With that kind of money in play, and presumably more to come, no one is anxious to speak out of turn.
But Larry Goldzband, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, told KPIX 5 the Portland barge structure appeared to be the same kind of floating building that Google is constructing in the Bay Area.
Both the Maine and Bay Area barges are owned by a company called By and Large, which has leased a large swath of pier and an abandoned U.S. Navy hangar from the Treasure Island Development Authority – a lease reliably said to be costing $100,000 a month. Officials have not responded to requests for comment.
Informed sources told KPIX 5 that Google wants to tow the Treasure Island barge from Treasure Island to a dock at Fort Mason in San Francisco’s Marina District, where it would open to the public as a Google Glass marketing center. Among other things, the center’s docking fees could be an important source of revenue to the cash-pressed park.
But work on the barge abruptly stopped a few weeks ago.
One reason for the stoppage may be Google’s failure to obtain a permit it would need from the BCDC to park the barge on the waterfront. A barge that remained in one place for an extended period of time might technically be considered “Bay fill.”
“We shouldn’t use the Bay as a lost opportunity for that which can be done on land,” Goldzband said Monday in an interview with KPIX 5. “We need to ensure that whatever this permit is applied for actually fits into what the Bay should be used for.”
Some said Google might solve that problem if the barge did not remain at Fort Mason – that a true floating center, in transit from San Francisco to Oakland and elsewhere, might not need a permit.
But Goldzband sounded skeptical. “It’s not that easy,” he said.
And the absence of a permit may not be Google’s only concern. One person close to the Treasure Island project said it was stalled because of technical difficulties with the Google Glass product itself.
“The barge is basically done,” he said. “The problem is the product. It needs more work. They’re not ready to promote it yet.”
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