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Google wants to dock mystery barge in San Francisco

No authorization has been granted, but the tech giant talked with the National Park Service about towing the mystery structure, which seems related to Google Glass, into San Francisco's Fort Mason.

Google's mystery barge in the San Francisco Bay. The tech giant has been in discussions to tow it to San Francisco's Fort Mason Center. Josh Miller/CNET

Google has had discussions over the last few months with the National Park Service about bringing its mystery barge into San Francisco and docking it alongside the artsy Fort Mason Center.

According to Golden Gate National Recreation Area director of communications Howard Levitt, Google wanted to bring the barge to Fort Mason, which is operated under the auspices of the National Park Service. "We have had discussions with our partner Fort Mason Center, and with Google," Levitt told CNET, "about the idea of some kind of barge being placed off of one of the piers at lower Fort Mason."

Last week, CNET was first to report the connection between Google and the mysterious four-story structure being built atop a barge off a pier at Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. Later, CNET parent CBS' San Francisco affiliate KPIX reported that the mystery project was likely some sort of Google Glass retail store, and that the tech giant had planned to bring it to Fort Mason.

Today, The Verge confirmed the Fort Mason discussions.

But Levitt told CNET that not only has the Park Service not yet authorized the barge to come to Fort Mason, but also that it hasn't received very many details from Google. And those are details that would be required in order for such authorization to be granted. "Certainly, we'd have to be clear on what kinds of activities would take place on the barge," Levitt said, "and how those activities would support whatever kind of land-based activities [take place] at Fort Mason."

However, Levitt said he doubted the theory advanced about a Google Glass store project. "I don't think it's intended to be a retail environment," he said. "The details are still being developed." But he did say that his understanding was that the Google project "was in relation to a product."

A source told CNET last week, separate from the KPIX report, that he had knowledge that the mystery project is a Google store of some kind. The tipster, who has strong Silicon Valley connections but asked to remain anonymous, said he'd heard from multiple Google sources that the company wants to float the Glass stores from city to city, and that the idea for the project came straight from either Larry Page or Sergey Brin, Google's founders.

Larry Goldzband, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which has jurisdiction over the San Francisco Bay, told CNET that if the Google project constitutes what he called "fill in the bay," a permit would be required. "You can build a boat anywhere you want and sail it around the bay," Goldzband said, "and you can park it in an approved slip...But you cannot moor a vessel for an extended period of time in the bay because that constitutes fill in the bay."

Goldzband said that he had been part of at least two meetings with Google and the company's attorney, and that the BCDC had not learned very much about what was planned. "We're looking forward to learning what the vessel is going to be used for, and what it's going to do."

He also said that the US Coast Guard would have to give the vessel its blessing, something that seems like it has yet to happen. But the Coast Guard -- at least in the San Francisco Bay -- is not saying much. The Coast Guard in Portland, Maine, however, where a second Google mystery barge project is located, said that it has not yet inspected the structure there.

Either way, both the San Francisco Bay and Portland barge projects are sitting idle, with no work being done, and no progress being made toward completion. It's not known why work has stopped on Treasure Island, and the Coast Guard in Maine assumes the plan is for work to begin there only after the San Francisco Bay project is finished.

Neither Google nor the Coast Guard station in the San Francisco Bay have responded to requests for comment from CNET.