CityView Plaza project gets key San Jose approval as some work to save a piece of history
Renderings show the proposed office towers at CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose. Courtesy of Jay Paul and Gensler.

Massive plans to redevelop CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose are a step closer to reality.

The San Jose Planning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to send Jay Paul Co.’s 3.8 million-square-foot office development proposal to the City Council with a recommendation to approve the project, which would rise on about 8.1 acres in the heart of the city’s downtown core. Council members are expected to vote on the project sometime this summer.

“This is going to be a — I hate to use the word game changer, but I will — this is going to be a game changer for downtown San Jose,” Commissioner Peter Allen said ahead of the vote. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it is incorporated into our urban fabric.”

But that key approval by the advisory body to the City Council comes as some preservation groups in the city are also aiming to save one of the nine buildings set to be demolished by naming it a historic landmark.

The 1973 building, at 170 Park Ave., was once a bank building and later served as a courthouse. It has been nicknamed “the Sphinx” by the Preservation Action Council of San Jose for the shape of its facade.

The two-story, nearly 30,000-square-foot building at 170 Park Ave. once was home to Bank of California, then to the Santa Clara County Superior Court. Now it sits vacant and is expected to be demolished along with the rest of CityView Plaza. Photo courtesy of PAC SJ

According to city officials, it meets at least five criteria that could offer it a spot on the city’s historic landmark roster, including being an example of an important part of the city’s history; having distinguishing characteristics of modernism and brutalist architecture; and having been designed by a master architect.

The San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission this month unanimously agreed to start the process to recommend the property become a city landmark — a designation that could save the building from being bulldozed if approved by the City Council.

But several planning commissioners Wednesday said they would be glad to see it go.

“I came to work for San Jose right after that (CityView) project was built, and have listened for years to apologies from redevelopment and planning staff for having built a building that was so inappropriate, so badly designed,” Commissioner Michelle Yesney said.

Jay Paul representatives said they tested multiple methods to keep the building on site. One option explored whether one of the towers could be built over the stout building, but the group ultimately concluded that would be infeasible because pillars would have to be built through the old bank and courthouse building to stabilize the new development.

Ben Leech, executive director for the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said he isn’t satisfied that the developer has explored all available options to keep the building.

“This isn’t about preservation vs. development,” he said in an email to this news organization after the meeting. “It’s not a question of either/or, but how to accomplish both. The developer has given us a lot of reasons why they’d prefer not to but no valid reasons why they can’t.”

The organization is also concerned because new information about the project was provided to the public in recent days, giving residents little time to review and make comments on some parts of the development plans, group representatives said Wednesday.

For that reason, PACSJ asked that the Planning Commission’s vote on the development be delayed. That request was not granted, to the relief of Jay Paul Co., which is already working on a nearly 1 million-square-foot, 19-story building across the street from CityView Plaza, at 200 Park Ave. That development is expected to be integrated in some way with the redevelopment of CityView Plaza, company officials have said.

“We believe the time to invest in the future of San Jose is now,” Janette D’Elia, chief operating officer of Jay Paul Co., said. “We’re actively talking to prospective tenants who are establishing their post-COVID strategies, and you know timing is everything.”

Renderings show the proposed office towers at CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose. Courtesy of Jay Paul and Gensler.

While the potential recommendation to preserve the small building at the corner of Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard remains in motion, Jay Paul’s project is also still marching forward.

If approved by the City Council, the development would get underway later this year and take nearly six years to complete in full.

The proposal would bring about 3.6 million square feet of office space above 24,000 square feet of retail. About 6,230 parking spaces would sit underground, maximized through car lifts and valet parking. Jay Paul is asking to be allowed to construct the project 24 hours a day.

Commissioners approved that proposal but with the recommendation that Jay Paul work with the city to reduce the amount of parking in the development.

“We need people to be using transit to get around, we need people to be walking and biking,” commission Chair Shiloh Ballard said. “If you build it, they will come. … If we build 6,000 parking spots, they’re probably going to get filled up, and if we don’t, people are going to find a different way of getting there.”

Renderings show the proposed office towers at CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose. Courtesy of Jay Paul and Gensler.

Yesney, who made the motion to approve the project, said she wasn’t comfortable trying to require the developer to nix some of the parking because it could impact financing.

“It’s a hell of a lot of parking right in the middle of downtown,” she said. “But this is going to revitalize a portion of downtown, I think, and I don’t want to screw with it at this point.”

Indeed, Phil Mahoney, Newmark Knight Frank executive vice chairman who is working to lease the development on behalf of Jay Paul, agreed the parking will be an important part of the package — particularly in the post-coronavirus world.

“Not everyone is going to want to get on a Diridon train right now, not everyone’s going to want to get on a bus right now,” he said. “Unfortunately, like it or not, we’re still wed to the automobile, and large corporate users that will bring a myriad of benefits for the downtown market — as well as for San Jose in general — will need that parking.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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