San Jose Downtown Association finds new leader in Reno
Alex Stettinski with board members from Downtown Reno Partnership. Stettinski will take over leadership of the San Jose Downtown Association in October. Photo courtesy of Alex Stettinski.

After more than three decades, the San Jose Downtown Association is getting new leadership.

Alex Stettinski, executive director of Downtown Reno Partnership, is set to become CEO following a six-month national search involving 46 candidates. Stettinski will replace CEO Scott Knies, who has led the business organization since 1988. Knies will remain on the job until Nov. 4.

With more than 20 years in economic and community development, Stettinski is excited to take the helm of the downtown business association on Oct. 4. He previously served as executive director of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and vice president of operations and strategic planning at Visit West Hollywood. In 2017, he joined Downtown Reno Partnership and set about building it from scratch. 

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Stettinski relocated to the Bay Area in 1989 to pursue a graduate degree in comparative religion and the arts from UC Berkeley. He said he will bring his strengths as a collaborator and consensus builder to his new job.

“It’s bittersweet leaving Reno,” he told San José Spotlight. “We made great strides in clean and safe place activation and place making. My intention is to do something very similar in downtown San Jose. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

The pandemic has hit downtown San Jose hard, and the core of the city has struggled with homelessness, blight and loss of foot traffic following COVID-related shutdowns. Longtime businesses closed down and restaurants and bars suffered as tech employees went remote.

According to a recent city report, downtown San Jose’s recovery has been grim and economically lagging because many of its driving forces, including commercial projects and events, have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

An outside perspective

Alan Marques, SJDA board president, appreciates Stettinski’s combination of relevant experience running downtown associations, as well as his strength in attracting businesses, small business retention and supporting the arts and fundraising. He said Stettinski made the SJDA board appreciate what San Jose has to offer.

“The energy and enthusiasm he has for San Jose was good for us to hear,” he told San José Spotlight. “He gave the board a sense that things are going to not only be okay, but (he) showed the potential for the future.”

Formed by a group of business owners to protect their interests from transit and development projects, the San Jose Downtown Association has transformed into an influential advocacy organization that plays a key role in shaping the future of the downtown core.

Under Knies’ leadership, SJDA has started numerous events to add vibrancy to downtown, including the summer concert series Music in the Park and SoFA Street Fair, among others. The association has successfully lobbied for downtown to be a property-based improvement district, which creates a pool of money from local businesses and residents to fund initiatives like Groundwerx, which employs homeless and low-income residents to clean up trash and graffiti.

SJDA has also played a key part influencing development projects in the downtown area, including maximizing building heights and the Google Downtown West project. Knies and the association have lobbied for policies to support the recovery of downtown businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marques said Knies’ leadership created a stable association which works hard to improve San Jose. He said changes are coming to San Jose with new leadership and the promise of new development, which will affect the quality of downtown life for small businesses and the arts.

“We thought it was very important to get an experienced, outside perspective that’s going to bring in new ideas,” he said. “Someone who will do whatever it takes to bring things to the next level.”

Elizabeth Chien-Hale, a SJDA board member and a driving force in the San Jose Downtown Residents Association, said Stettinski will bring innovation to a downtown in need of change. She said he is interested in bringing niche high-end restaurants to downtown as he did in Beverly Hills.

“He’s a good business developer,” she told San José Spotlight. “He’s got that tenacity, persistence and vision.”

Having worked in the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles and Reno helped Stettinski to see issues that need to be addressed in San Jose, he said. He also looks forward to living in San Jose with its “amazingly global mindset.”

“San Jose to me is this wonderful community that combines generations of history,” he said. “It’s an old city that has so many families that have lived there for many, many generations. Then you have all the people, all this brain power that comes in from all over the world, to join the tech companies… That’s a wonderful mix of cultures and mindsets that to me is so worldly and so global. Coming from Europe and having lived in so many different places… that’s where I feel comfortable.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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