Sobrato unveils new plans for big downtown San Jose office tower
A rendering shows how Market Street Towers would look at the corner of South Market and West San Carlos streets. Image Credit: Arquitectonica | The Sobrato Organization

The Sobrato Organization has submitted a formal application to San Jose to remake a prime downtown parking lot in the heart of the city into a glassy new tower geared toward tech tenants.

Market Street Towers, a proposed 19-story tower that appears from the outside to be four separate towers of varying heights, is expected to rise on a 1.5-acre lot at the northeast corner of South Market and West San Carlos streets, a site known colloquially as Block 8.

“There’s iconic architecture in the design,” Chase Lyman, vice president of leasing and acquisitions at Sobrato, said in an interview Tuesday. “The building naturally, gradually twists as you move up the elevation and I think it will redefine and be the prominent building in the downtown skyline.”

A view from one of the proposed “sky gardens” in the Market Street Towers proposal by The Sobrato Organization. Image credit: Arquitectonica | The Sobrato Organization

Sobrato’s formal application landed at San Jose City Hall this week more than nine months after the Mountain View-based developer first submitted an early vision for the site to get feedback from city planners.

Since then, the company has tweaked the proposal and unveiled a glossy, interactive new website for the potential development, designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, which is known for its cutting edge, futuristic designs.

“They are a little bit more spectacular than the norm,” Rick Jensen, communications director for the San Jose Downtown Association said of Arquitectonica. “Personally, I’m excited to see one of their buildings go up in the downtown area.”

The project is slated to rise 19 stories, or about 295 feet tall, at its highest level. It would include 568,268 square feet of office space and 16,372 square feet of ground level retail with six floors filled with 683 parking stalls sandwiched in between. Market Street Towers would be topped with about 23,144 square feet of “sky gardens.”

The formal proposal comes about nine years after The Sobrato Organization purchased the Block 8 site from the now defunct San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

“Sobrato doesn’t generally do things half way and they don’t just kind of guess at when to do things,” said Bob Staedler, principal at land use consultancy Silicon Valley Synergy. “This means that Sobrato has acknowledged that this is the time in downtown San Jose to build.”

And while the company doesn’t have a timeline for when the project would be developed, the application comes at a critical moment for San Jose.

The Bay Area’s largest city, though often overlooked, is capturing the attention of investors, developers and tech companies in an unprecedented way. Not only is Google looking to build a massive and sprawling campus near the city’s downtown, but developers like Jay Paul Co., Boston Properties, TMG, Gary Dillabough and his partners and now Sobrato are all proposing major new office and mixed-use developments in the city’s urban core.

“We are still in a housing crisis but … we are the only top-10 city where people leave town to work versus come to town to work,” Jensen said. “Until these mega developments come along, we have been saying we want more office and we want more big companies like Adobe, so now it looks like the opportunity is arriving.”

So far, none of the proposed office developments, outside of Adobe’s fourth office tower, have started rising in the downtown. But San Jose officials are working on ways to push more housing projects forward as office development proposals arrive in the city.

One major selling point of Market Street Towers, Lyman says, is the size of the floors in the office portion of the proposed building. Many of of the floor plates will span more than 50,000 square feet across.

A view of the proposed Market Street Towers development, which would rise on a 1.5-acre site long known as “Block 8.” Image credit: Arquitectonica | The Sobrato Organization

That’s a key detail because companies in recent years have sought out, or built for themselves, offices where more employees can sit on a single floor to encourage “casual collisions” or impromptu brainstorming sessions among employees.

Facebook, for instance, in recent years opened two new office buildings in Menlo Park that boast the largest floor plates in the region.

Chipmaker Nvidia in Santa Clara last year unveiled its new headquarters, a 500,000-square-foot building with only three floors and is currently constructing an even bigger building next door.

Google is underway building a new tent-like office building near its Mountain View headquarters that will span 595,000 square feet, but again spread across only a few levels.

An early conceptual design shows one option for how The Sobrato Organization’s Block 2 could look. Image credit: KSH Architects | The Sobrato Organization

“You gain a lot of efficiencies with larger floor plates,” Lyman said. “We think 50,000 square feet is the optimal size.”

So far, Lyman says Sobrato has been in talks with “a handful” of potential tenants but notes “nothing is eminent.” The company is analyzing whether or not it would build the project “spec,” meaning before it has a tenant in tow.

Meanwhile, the developer is also working to appeal to growing tech tenants, which are increasingly eyeing the South Bay for expansion space. On its website, Sobrato offers early conceptual designs for other Sobrato-owned development sites nearby, known as Block 2 and Block 3.

Veteran broker Mark Ritchie, president at San Jose-based Ritchie Commercial is skeptical that Block 8 will be close enough to Blocks 2 and 3 to make a single campus for a tech user, but he did praise Sobrato for being unafraid to think about multiple buildings in downtown as part of a connected campus without envisioning tunnels or bridges between the buildings.

A map by The Sobrato Organization shows where the three sites, called Block 2, Block 3 and Block 8 sit in relation to each other. Image credit: The Sobrato Organization

“The weather here is so perfect, so I could see that all day long,” he said. “They are a little bit far from each other, in terms of numbers of yards, to have one user, but how about Block 8 and the Valley Title block kitty-corner?”

Blocks 2 and 3, as they are called, sit within about a block of where Market Street Towers would rise. The two sites are nearly neighbors, abutting South Second Street, while Block 8 sits at the end of the block.

“Between our three sites downtown, we can provide over 1 million square feet for someone who wants to raise a big flag in downtown,” Lyman said. “Some tenants want to feel like they’ve got a path of growth downtown and we have that ability.”

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

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