The San Jose Earthquakes and South Bay officials are taking a big step in long-held plans to develop a public and private soccer field complex at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
Santa Clara County, San Jose and the Earthquakes organization announced their three-way deal Wednesday, with a shared goal of opening an eight-field facility on about 26 acres in the coming years.
“It’s like Christmas came early, this is so great,” District 2 County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said during a news conference at the fairgrounds. “Putting this project here is so important because it demonstrates to the public that this area really does belong to everybody and to the neighborhood surrounding this community, how important it is to have recreation that is safe and healthy for our kids.”
Chavez, who represents the area where the fairgrounds are located at 344 Tully Road, has spearheaded a yearslong effort to revitalize the aging 150-acre fairgrounds site into a sports, entertainment and recreation hub.
Early plans call for the Earthquakes to have four fields on the site to serve as the club’s new practice facility, including a 35,000 square-foot professional training center. The facility will be used by the pros as well as youth in the Earthquakes Academy programs.
On roughly the other half of the acreage, officials said they hope to create four lighted “world-class” artificial turf soccer fields that will be open to the public. All of the fields and facilities are planned to be located at the southwestern corner of the fairgrounds, near the intersection of Umbarger and Monterey roads.
Earthquakes representatives said they are planning to commit $50 million to the project, including financing and management of the public fields. Jared Shawlee, president of the Earthquakes, said the organization expects up to 300,000 people could use the fields each year.
“This made so much sense for us to pursue. This was such a central site to all of San Jose,” Shawlee said. “We believe (the fields) can be a catalyst for this entire site to redevelop and become the community site that it was 10 or 20 years ago.”
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said the city is about 50 soccer fields short based on the level of need right now.
“This is a community resource that’s badly needed in San Jose. When I was a middle school teacher in the East Side, I coached soccer and I saw how transformative it was for my students to be part of a team,” Mahan said.
He said kids 15 years ago struggled to find places to play and practice. The problem has persisted, so adding four high-quality fields at the fairgrounds will be a boon for residents.
“These fairground fields will coexist side by side with the pros, allowing our kids to see the dedication, sportsmanship and drive modeled by our Quakes players,” Mahan said.
The Earthquakes led the MLS last year in having 13 players on its roster who came up through the team’s youth academy, and officials said having more fields for kids to use will support the pipeline of local player development.
Edwyn Mendoza, 17, is a San Jose resident who went through the team’s academy and signed a professional contract with the Earthquakes in May. He said finding a decent place to practice was a struggle when he was still playing in his neighborhood and dreaming of going pro.
“This facility will be a game-changer,” Mendoza said. “I know if I were a kid shoe-stringing side by side on the same fields as my heroes, that it would inspire me more to chase my dreams.”
More work ahead
The agreement announced Wednesday is nearly three years in the making. After the Earthquakes expressed interest to Santa Clara County in developing fields there in early 2021, the county began work to negotiate with the team, entering into exclusive negotiating agreements in April 2022 and extending them last April.
While a preliminary term-sheet agreement between the county and the team is now in place—and city leaders have said they are fully committed to the project—there are plenty of details to be worked out, including finalizing a land lease, timelines, and getting needed permit processes underway.
But everyone who is involved in the deal expressed confidence the fields will come to fruition quickly. Shawlee said the hope is to open the finished facilities before the 2026 World Cup, with an aim of letting the U.S. Men’s National Team practice at the facility.
Meanwhile, more negotiations are still in the works for other major plans for the fairgrounds site.
Progress is being made toward establishing a 15,000-capacity professional cricket stadium and a parking garage on a 14-acre parking lot that fronts Tully Road in San Jose.
San Jose State University, meanwhile, is hoping to create a commemorative track and field facility on nine acres in the middle of the fairgrounds, honoring the legacy of Speed City and the Olympic Project for Human Rights. The project would also include an indoor sports complex.