Signia by Hilton San Jose pumps new energy in the downtown
Signia San Jose by Hilton replaces the historic Fairmont Hotel. The property has been completely renovated. Photo by Jana Kadah.

The doors are open again at the South Bay’s largest hotel.

The Signia by Hilton San Jose, which opened this week, replaces the iconic 805-room Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose that went bankrupt in 2020 due to the pandemic. The 34-year old hotel’s closure was a blow to the heart of downtown, the city’s economy and the tourism industry.

The re-opening under a new brand is sending a jolt of energy through the city’s core.

“It was fantastic to see the hotel open yesterday,” Scott Knies, CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association, said. “I could feel the difference along the Paseo.”

Knies along with other business leaders said Signia’s opening is adding to the momentum spurred by new investments and development in downtown.

“The interest in investing downtown is certainly high – the highest we’ve seen in quite some time,” said Derrick Seaver, president and CEO of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, noting that investment activity is higher than even pre-pandemic levels. “This hotel is a great example of that.”

Seaver said it’s part of a larger trend in downtown, pointing to the Miro Towers, an apartment complex, that just opened across from San Jose City Hall, the Downtown West Google project, the two-tower 16-story Almaden Office Project and a number of other major million-dollar developments in the city’s center.

The Signia San Jose looks the same as the Fairmont Hotel on the outside, but the inside has undergone extensive renovations.  A sleek, modern entrance guides visitors to a fully revamped dining area and bar, filled with a diverse range of cuisines. The hotel’s pool and fitness centers were also upgraded.

Sam Hirbod, president and CEO of Eagle Canyon Capital and the Fairmont owner who declared declared bankruptcy, said the hotel will serve as a “cultural anchor.”

The upstairs of the Signia San Jose hotel, which neighbors the San Jose Museum of Art. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Business on the rebound

But the most notable change – at least for San Jose’s business and tourism industries – is the 65,000 square feet of office space in the hotel.

The Signia by Hilton hotels brand is specifically designed for business tourists – a rare big city that has more business tourists and visitors on the weekdays, than weekend tourists. San Jose meets that definition.

“So to see an investment in a hospitality operation that targets that industry is a really great thing for the city,” Seaver said. “It’s gonna match up well with who we are and what our market advantage really is.”

Hotel staff pictured in the Signia San Jose lobby area. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Officials from the Hilton’s franchise agreed.

“Regarded as the center of tech-ingenuity, San Jose offers the perfect location to expand Hilton’s California presence,” Danny Hughes, executive vice president and president, Americas, Hilton said in a statement. “The hotel’s debut strengthens the city’s positioning as a leading destination for some of the most prominent meetings and social events.”

San Jose leaders said this opening will also be a win for the city’s tourism and hospitality industries – both hit hard during the pandemic. When the hotel closed, 400 hospitality workers were out of a job, many of whom have come back with the reopening.

Mohamed Ali, who worked in guest services at the Fairmont for more than 15 years prior to the closure, said he is ecstatic to be back at what he called home.

“I’m just happy to see a lot of good faces that I worked with for a long time and I feel like we are all excited to come back,” Ali told San José Spotlight. “We learned a lot of things about the Hilton, and we think it’s going to be a great addition in downtown and the renovation looks really, really spectacular.”

Mohamed Ali stands at the Signia San Jose entrance. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Team San Jose, which manages the city’s cultural centers and tourism, including the convention center, reported zero dollars in revenue last year. However, the hotel opening in the heart of downtown at 170 S. Market St.—minutes away from the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Center for the Performing Arts, the Tech Interactive and other San Jose landmarks—will help generate more revenue for Team San Jose and the city.

“I think you’re starting to see the signs of business travel coming back, that has always been a strong market for San Jose,” Seaver told San José Spotlight. “The investment by a company such as Hilton in the downtown is obviously a big deal and something we’re celebrating.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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