San Jose is one step closer to having an iconic landmark
Urban Confluence Executive Director Steve Borkenhagen explains logistics to a group of residents and competition-hopefuls at an Arena Green site tour Sunday afternoon. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Imagine it in Silicon Valley.

That’s Urban Confluence Silicon Valley’s message, as the nonprofit is on the mission to honor San Jose’s history and prestige in technology and innovation, by creating an iconic landmark in the nation’s tenth largest city.

The group last summer launched an international design competition to solicit ideas from the community.

Dozens of residents and competition-hopefuls stopped by for a community site tour Sunday at Arena Green, the landmark’s future downtown San Jose location. The afternoon was marked with discussions about the possibilities and rules and regulations within landmark designs.

The dream, according to Urban Confluence’s Executive Director Steve Borkenhagen, is creating a landmark that would be the highlight of San Jose’s future “Central Park.”

“We’re trying to build something beautiful that all of us can enjoy on an ongoing basis forever,” Borkenhagen told San José Spotlight. “We’re doing this purely as something that will increase the quality of life for you, me and everyone else really in the world, but in particular, people in San Jose and in Silicon Valley.”

The project organizers have worked hard to ensure all voices are heard and every design is evaluated on a level playing field, Borkenhagen said. All entries are anonymous, and juries and panels overseeing said entries are composed of everyone from community members to local officials.

“This is a gift to the community,” Borkenhagen said. “We want the community, in a wide sense, to be involved in everything that we’re doing, and we’ve done that from the beginning.”

So far, the competition has received over a hundred finished applications, with many more in progress, Borkenhagen added. All project proposals are due by April 3.

One competition-hopeful, Jaime Valenzuela, attended the site tour with his fiancée, Brenda, who was there for “moral support.” For Valenzuela, a Redwood City architectural designer of 12 years, Urban Confluence’s competition could lead to the project of a lifetime.

“Ultimately, you’re trying to design something that will become an icon,”  Valenzuela, 37, said. “Being a part of a project like that is a dream project for every architect or designer.”

San Jose is a veritable “melting pot” of cultures and technology, Valenzuela continued, and having a landmark will clearly speak to what the city is about. Valenzuela declined to share his idea, as his design would no longer be anonymous as required by the competition’s guidelines.

Glenn Brown, another attendee and real estate developer, said he seeks to “honor our differences” and portray “where we come together” with his design. Brown also could not to discuss his submission.

“I’d like to see something that recognizes humanity, not just one culture or one sect — everybody,” Brown, 56, said.

According to Brown, the opportunities are limitless, considering the landmark’s proximity to SAP and the future Google campus.

“This is gonna be the heartbeat of the collaborative community of San Jose,” Brown told San José Spotlight. “What does that look like? I’m not sure. But it should be big.”

Scott Knies, executive director at San Jose Downtown Association, said San Jose has the potential to be a tourist destination with its proximity to other Bay Area powerhouses such as Berkeley and San Francisco. He and other downtown boosters are hoping an iconic landmark has the potential to draw visitors, tourists and residents to the city’s urban core — similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Space Needle in Seattle or The Bean in the heart of Chicago.

Urban Confluence’s project would “anchor” San Jose’s visitor experience, Knies added, and would be a huge boost to local business.

“These type of symbols of the city frequently become tourist attractions and visitor experiences and that always ends up helping the nearby business community, whether people are incorporating it when their in-laws come to visit for the holidays or whether they’re in town for a conference or meeting,” Knies said.

San Jose has long lacked a “vibrant” downtown and a landmark is overdue, said Lisa Ruder, a San Jose resident at the site tour. Ruder is also a recent volunteer with the city’s historic preservation office.

“San Jose did have the electric light tower that was a monument, something that defined the city, and I don’t think it has anything like that anymore,” Ruder said. “People think about the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bean in Chicago or the St. Louis Arch. We don’t have anything like that.”

The selection of three finalists will be announced in early May, with each finalist receiving a $150,000 stipend to finalize their idea or bring in collaborators. The final winner will be announced this summer.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at the.loananh.lede@gmail.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

 

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