Staedler: Could the Sharks leave San Jose?

As San Jose prepares for its evolution into Downtown 2.0, it has to deal with the growing pains that come from such a transition.

One of the biggest challenges the city faces is its ongoing relationship with the San Jose Sharks. For decades, the Sharks have been a major stimulus and economic driver for Downtown San Jose. As any frequenter of Downtown can tell you, it’s not hard to distinguish between a night when there’s a Sharks game and when they’re away.

The SAP Center, home of the Sharks, is at the center of change because of its proximity to Diridon Station, the site of a proposed massive Google campus.

The Sharks have made it crystal clear to the city for the last several decades that any development in the Diridon area would require additional parking to be built. The agreement between the two parties requires a set number of parking spaces within a predetermined radius. An unfortunate decision was made when the revised BART plan omitted a 1,300-space parking garage near the new and improved Diridon Station.

That led to two lawsuits from the Sharks in Superior and Federal Courts challenging the environmental clearance.

While I believe that 1,300-spaces might be more than what’s needed, a garage of some sort is required for BART/High Speed Rail and for the continued success of the Sharks. A sticking point to this stand-off is both principled and financial. Mayor Sam Liccardo has repeatedly said that the city is planning Diridon and downtown San Jose for people not cars.

But I believe that a middle ground can be reached between all parties without impacting San Jose’s general fund.

My solution would entail the city selling garages it owns, including Market Street, 3rd and Santa Clara, 4th Street Garage, and reinvesting the money from the sales into a garage in the Diridon area.

The city could joint venture with the Sharks to develop this garage. It could use the best building practices and have the Sharks oversee the design, construction and operation of the garage. The Sharks have shown a lot of savvy and creative design with their Solar4America Ice on Tenth Street in San Jose.

I suggest building the garage on a property that the city has purchased for the extension of Autumn Street, the former Milligan News site. San Jose does not need the whole site for the extension, and it is diagonally across the street from north side of SAP.

By placing the garage on a planned arterial, a block and a half north of Santa Clara Street, it would not hurt the goals of the mayor and VTA. They can keep the pedestrian-oriented design for the Diridon Station area while maintaining their relationship with the Sharks. A 850-1,000 space garage could easily fit there and mitigate the issues from the Sharks lawsuit.

The Sharks have looked at acquiring property immediately north of the SAP Center for parking, but the site has single-family homes on it. The use of eminent domain on private land for economic development is under fire following a Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which affirmed the city’s right to seize private property, but led to stricter eminent domain laws in more than 40 states including California.

My solution avoids this complication and provides the Sharks with certainty.

Whether they take my suggestion or not, I hope San Jose can come to terms with the Sharks on this matter soon. If it lingers too much longer, my gut tells me that the Sharks will start to threaten to leave San Jose. It’s the next move in the unhappy professional sports team playbook — to leverage their fan base against the city in which they reside.

I’m excited to see San Jose begin to make Downtown 2.0 a reality, but it needs to bring the Sharks along as an ally — not an enemy.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at bob@svsynergy.com or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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