Google starts work on new downtown San Jose community center in historic building
The San Jose Water Company Building is being renovated inside by Google to become a new community space. Image courtesy of CC - Eugene Zelenko

When Google officials unveiled the company’s framework for a massive downtown San Jose campus, they promised residents community gathering spaces and “opportunity pathways.” Now they’re starting to deliver on that.

Alphabet-owned Google has started work inside the two-story San Jose Water Company building at 374 W. Santa Clara St. to create a new community center in the historic building that sits in the middle of what is expected to become a sprawling, mixed-use tech campus with about 25,000 employees showing up for work every day in the coming years.

The location is prime for a community center, downtown boosters told San José Spotlight this week.

“That is an especially important building,” said Teresa Alvarado, San Jose director at urban planning think-tank SPUR. “When people think of downtown, particularly of historic buildings, they think of that building; it’s on a main thoroughfare and most importantly it is on the Guadalupe River Park.”

The former Water Company building was a logical choice to keep in the long-term, added Scott Knies, executive director at the San Jose Downtown Association.

“It’s a building that has got quite a bit of charm and from some of the first discussions with Google and at community meetings, they were going to need to have a public presence in downtown west,” Knies said. “That building made the most sense.”

San Jose building permit records show the Mountain View-based tech giant applied for permits last month. Google spokesperson Michael Appel this week confirmed the work inside the building had begun, but said Google is still working out many of the details.

Company officials also revealed in August the former Orchard Supply Hardware location at 377 Royal Ave. will become an interim jobs training center, a plan they intend to implement in the near-term, though Google hasn’t released a timeline for when it will open. As of Friday, no building permit applications had been recorded by the city for the property.

The news of the new community center comes as Google this week unveiled its long-anticipated formal application for a more than 8 million-square-foot mixed-use campus on 60 acres of land on the west side of downtown.

The plan outlines about 6.5 million square feet of office space, a hotel, retail and parks, and between 3,000 and 5,000 new homes in buildings reaching as high as 290 feet near Diridon Station, a bustling transit hub with Caltrain, light rail and bus connections.

Google’s plans have spurred anxiety for some community members who are afraid they’ll be pushed out of their longtime home in one of the few cities they can afford to live in the Bay Area. But others say Google has made strides to be a good partner.

The project shows the company has set aside space directly abutting Diridon Station to be “cultural space” that would be open to everyone. It aims to extend creek trails and new greenways along the Guadalupe River and the Los Gatos Creek.

“It really looks and feels like they are listening and they are learning from the feedback that has been provided through the (Station Area Advisory Group) process,” said Alvarado, referring to a 38-member community advisory group in which she belongs that was convened by the city. “It really feels like a place that is going to be one where all San Joesans feel welcome and still respect that this our city’s downtown.”

Google is pushing for a fall 2020 City Council vote on its project and, if approved, would begin construction in 2021.

“Originally we were thinking of a ballpark out there and now to have a partner like Google that has come to the table and said they are willing to add affordable housing, they are willing to add open space and more than anything they are willing to listen to the community,” Knies said. “It’s like the dream partner.”

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

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