San Jose: Urban Catalyst eyes retailers for Camera 12 site
Urban Catalyst's vision for the Camerat 12 site includes about 13,000 square feet of retail and two levels of office space. Image credit: HGA Architects

Retailers are showing interest in the long-empty Camera 12 site in downtown San Jose, where visions for the property have morphed several times, from student housing to a revamped theater and now office and retail space.

But this time, it seems plans for the project will come to fruition, and real estate insiders say Urban Putt, a hip, indoor minigolf company, could go into some of the approximately 13,000 square feet of retail space in the old theater building, which is currently being renovated.

The retail portion of the project, known as “Paseo,” will likely see movement in the next six to eight months, said Erik Hayden, founder and managing partner of Urban Catalyst, which is renovating and redeveloping the property. Hayden on Friday acknowledged that he’d spoken with Urban Putt, but said no leases had been signed for the property.

“We plan on putting in the retail tenants first as we develop the office space and build it up,” he said. “We are looking at a variety of different things to see what pencils and … I’ve been very pleased with the types of responses we are getting.”

Urban Catalyst, which purchased the property last year from downtown developer Gary Dillabough and Campbell-based Imwalle Properties for $24 million, is working on turning the aging theater into a mixed-use building with ground-level retail below 73,000 square feet of office space in two floors. The full project will likely be completed by the first half of next year.

Urban Catalyst’s vision for the Camera 12 site includes about 13,000 square feet of retail and two levels of office space. Image courtesy of HGA Architects.

But the retail portion of the Paseo project will be done and leased well before the office space, according to Hayden, and Urban Catalyst is seeking a company — like Urban Putt — that wouldn’t need the window-lined facade that most retailers require to fill up what was once large theaters.

“There’s a lot of dark space, because the building was designed as a movie theater — it wasn’t designed for ground-floor retail,” Hayden said. “So for a portion of this project we are going to have to do some kind of use that doesn’t need those windows.”

Meanwhile, other more traditional retailers have also “expressed interest” in moving into the site, Hayden added.

Mark Ritchie, president of San Jose-based brokerage Ritchie Commercial, said that type of use would be ideal in downtown. Ritchie helped arrange the sale of the site to two different development groups, including to Urban Catalyst last year, and has watched the vision for the site evolve over time, but said the current vision is a strong one.

“When you think of large format retail in any city — but particularly in downtown San Jose in terms of square footage like that — it doesn’t take too much to figure out that Urban Putt or a similar concept would be great right there,” he said.

Urban Putt has a steampunk-esque San Francisco location replete with nods to the city within the game and a bar on site. If the San Jose location were to come to fruition, it would be the company’s second outpost in the Bay Area, and third in the U.S. The company is also located in Denver.

Hayden said he’s also seen strong interest from other more traditional retailers, but declined to disclose which companies. Urban Catalyst is looking for at least one full-service restaurant and a couple other smaller retailers that would take up around 1,000 square feet each for the property.

“The ground-floor activation is what defines a city,” Hayden said. “At Urban Catalyst, we feel creating really amazing ground floor uses is really important to the health of our city and is going to define the next 10 years of the project.”

Urban Catalyst, the city’s landmark Opportunity Zone Fund, has invested in at least seven projects, including the vacant Camera 12 site, in San Jose’s downtown core. Camera 12 in the heart of downtown has sat dark since spinning its last reel in September 2016.

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

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