‘Rundown shopping center’ revamp worries business owners

    Cambrian Park Plaza — the 17-acre shopping center known for its iconic carousel display — is long overdue for renovation, but many longtime business owners are worried they’ll be squeezed out.

    Weingarten Realty is planning a significant redevelopment that calls for a six-story hotel, town square, park,115,000 square feet of entertainment and retail space, senior assisted living, townhomes and apartments.

    While groundbreaking is still years away, San Jose planning officials are now reviewing an environmental impact report and planning more community meetings.

    Despite the city’s rapid growth, the nostalgic shopping center kindles fond memories for San Jose natives and many customers and business owners expressed concerns about reinventing the plaza.

    Dean Ortega, who took over the Appliance Repair Business at Cambrian Plaza, is wary of any significant change. “I want it to stay exactly as it is,” he said. “Maybe a facelift would be nice.”

    Ortega said he knows his business will be forced out if the redevelopment plans go through. “I’m sure that they wouldn’t want an appliance store making a bunch of noise underneath someone’s apartment,” he said. The cost of rent would be another concern.

    Alfonso de Tagle, owner of De Tagle Jewelers, a plaza mainstay for nearly four decades, says he’s not opposed to redevelopment, but hopes that it’s done in a smart way.

    The proposed space for his jewelry shop would be smaller and the new apartments could strain resources such as water and electricity. Not to mention the growing demand on surrounding parking and vehicle access.

    “Concern of the residents is mostly the traffic,” said de Tagle.

    A sketch of the new Cambrian Plaza mixed-use village plan. Courtesy of Weingarten Realty.

    De Tagle is one of 15 business owners who joined a “Friends of the Cambrian Park Plaza” group in the wake of the redevelopment plans. De Tagle said the group is urging developers to take off a few stories from the proposed apartments and create more open space and community amenities such as farmers markets, among other requests.

    Customers are also worried.

    William Rodriguez, a lifelong San Jose resident and frequent shopper at the plaza, said he’d like to see developers focus more on parks and less on housing, especially since the plaza’s bowling alley closed in 2016.

    “Something for the parks, for the kids,” said Rodriguez. “It’s just not a whole lot right now.”

    San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley, whose district includes the plaza, says she understands the concerns from residents who grew up with the plaza, but said it’s time for a change. “Some people want it to be just as it is right now and that just doesn’t make sense,” Foley said. “The days of its heyday are gone.”

    Little by little, Foley added, tenants have left and the area needs some sprucing.

    “It’s a rundown shopping center that needs some love,” Foley said.

    A sketch of the new Cambrian Plaza mixed-use village plan. Courtesy of Weingarten Realty.

    While Foley acknowledges that some businesses will be forced out due to higher rents, she hopes that the finished project will serve the community well.

    The developers are going for a signature project design status — an official city designation — which requires that considerations are made for job growth, traffic impacts and aesthetics, among other requirements.

    Foley said the community wants a promenade for residents to wander with their coffee and enjoy the space. The carousel, which is a beloved component of the plaza, will be required to remain somewhere as part of the project.

    With plans still in preliminary stages, many questions remain about the plaza’s future and Foley hopes the developers will hold smaller focus groups with the owners.

    “I think it can be a win-win for everybody,” she said. “But we’re not there yet.”

    The developers have acknowledged community concern and put plans on hold last year to allow for more community input.

    A sketch of the new Cambrian Plaza mixed-use village plan. Courtesy of Weingarten Realty.

    “We continue to refine our mixed-use village plan so that it can accommodate the City’s complicated requirements for Cambrian Park Plaza and a wide range of community desires while maintaining basic economic feasibility,” Weingarten Realty spokeswoman Meagan Froehlich told San José Spotlight in an email.

    The project was submitted to the city in Sept. 2017 and is under review, said San Jose Supervising Planner Jennifer Piozet. For more information about the plans, visit https://cambrianparkplazashoppingcenter.com/.

    Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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