San Jose’s leading mayoral candidates gathered at the SAP Center to take questions about the future of the arena amid downtown’s burgeoning developments.
The Wednesday night forum featured Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmembers Dev Davis, Matt Mahan, Raul Peralez, and Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment. Former San Jose Police Department Sgt. Jim Spence and San Jose State University student Marshall Woodmansee were not invited. San Jose Downtown Association CEO Scott Knies moderated the event.
Becher made clear the San Jose Sharks hockey team is strongly interested in how the next mayor plans to protect the SAP Center from the major developments set to spring forth over the next decade, including Google’s Downtown West project, which will span about 80 acres around Diridon Station, and the BART extension to downtown.
Becher set forth several priorities for the sports franchise, which include an effective construction mitigation plan that maintains access to the arena for patrons and street parking. The Sharks, which use the SAP Center to play games, initially opposed Google’s Downtown West project due to concerns about construction and loss of parking. Sharks Sports & Entertainment came to an agreement with the city to provide about 3,000 parking spaces. In exchange, the Sharks pledged not to sue the San Jose and Google.
Becher says the team is on board with the plans around the arena—mostly.
“Somehow the narrative has been us versus them, that the future of SAP Center can only happen at the expense of these properties,” Becher said, dismissing this as a false dichotomy. “We can have both… not as the plans are right now, but with modest changes.”
The Sharks have long been vocal about needing parking around the SAP Center, publishing an open letter specifying their needs during the construction of Google’s project. The team refused to consent to the sale of three lots near its arena that the city gave Google permission to buy.
Downtown West, first proposed by Google in 2018, will span approximately 80 acres near Diridon Station and feature 7.3 million square feet of office space, 4,000 residences, 15 acres of parks and a 30,000-50,000-square-foot community center. It also boasts 500,000 square feet for retail, cultural, education and arts uses. A quarter of housing in the area will be affordable.
Candidates are Sharks fans
Knies asked the candidates several questions about how the SAP Center will fit in with the mayor’s other priorities, which include building up downtown, balancing different modes of transit and safeguarding parking around the arena.
Peralez, who currently represents downtown in District 3, said he grew up visiting downtown and has been eager to see it grow. He suggested building a new arena as a long-term plan for protecting the SAP Center and the Sharks.
“It’s much more than just preserving and protecting what the SAP Center means to us today, it is actually about helping to ensure that what the SAP Center means to our city and to continue to be that vibrant, thriving hub that helped enliven our downtown,” Peralez said.
Davis’ vision for SAP Center is closely linked with her dream for the rest of the city: to be safe and clean. She said she supports police foot patrols to help people feel secure downtown. She said the easiest way to avoid gridlock is for people to take public transit, but also noted the city is still trying to figure out how street capacity near the arena will be affected by development.
“There’s no other arena that had its neighborhood transform around it,” Davis said. “It’s really important for us to ensure we have adequate parking during times of construction, that we have adequate access during times of construction.”
Mahan said adding residents downtown and bringing in more visitors is crucial for increasing the area’s vitality. He said city officials must recognize that the vast majority of people travel to the SAP Center by car, so even as the city builds up public transit it has to still accommodate drivers. He emphasized he wants to find a way to keep the Sharks in San Jose for decades, which may mean adding stadium games or finding other ways to anchor the team. He also proposed a solution for the parking shortage.
“The answer is going to be between the city and Sharks and Google, we’re going to build up, we’re going to build a parking garage,” Mahan said. “There’s no viable alternative.”
Chavez said the SAP Center is a common cultural experience for many San Jose residents, and that the arena is an economic boon the downtown. She noted the city’s relationship with the Sharks is one of San Jose’s most effective public-private partnerships, and she wants it to grow. She emphasized the importance of integrating different kinds of transportation around the arena, from electric scooters to Caltrain. She said one challenge is making sure surrounding projects don’t harm any nearby stakeholders.
“There’s no doubt we need a plan that is going to be both protective of the SAP Center, protective of the residents, small businesses in the area and everybody else that’s going to be dramatically impacted by construction,” Chavez said.