East San Jose cultural district close to funding goal
Jessica Paz-Cedillos, co-executive director of the School of Arts and Culture, is excited to bring economic vitality to the community. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    An organization dedicated to revitalizing a segment of East San Jose is close to securing its multi-million dollar goal.

    The plan, dubbed La Avenida, has been in the works for a year and a half and aims to establish a cultural district next to the School of Arts and Culture. The project aims to fuel community and economic development, and has raised more than $21.2 million of the $25 million needed to build out the area along the Alum Rock Avenue corridor.

    The remaining $3.8 million is expected to funded by the end of the year, according to Jessica Paz-Cedillos, executive director of the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza. She said the project will establish a cultural district that will retain local businesses and support new entrepreneurs.

    “When I think about the people who live here now, it is important that they’re able to take advantage of the community assets that exist in this community,” Paz-Cedillos told San José Spotlight.

    The $25 million will cover two parts of an overall plan. The first part will build out 28,000 square feet of commercial property across from Mexican Heritage Plaza. This will revitalize the storefronts along the Alum Rock Avenue corridor, where 70% are unoccupied. The second part is redeveloping six acres to be used for affordable housing and commercial space for businesses and service providers.

    Chris Esparza, director of community development for the School of Arts and Culture, said the organization wanted to purchase the property to curb gentrification.

    “When you own property you have more control than when you’re a tenant or you’re renting or whatever the case is,” Esparza told San José Spotlight.

    The School of Arts and Culture previously received a $250,000 grant from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to expand the storefronts along Alum Rock Avenue across from Mexican Heritage Plaza. The grant went toward predevelopment and consulting costs.

    The Hewlett Foundation and David & Lucile Packard Foundation each contributed $250,000 to the project. The school has also received donations from various other foundations and individuals.

    “I look forward to how it’s going to stimulate our economy, both in the east side and in the Alum Rock business district,” District 5 Councilmember Peter Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “With this project, we’re going to eventually (revitalize) the economy.”

    Paz-Cedillos said she hopes the place will be a hub that brings the community together for generations to come.

    “When I’m thinking about a 5-year-old that grows up to be a teen that will go off to college, our hope is that they’re able to come back,” Paz-Cedillos said. “Then this is a community that they feel proud of.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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