Staedler: The world is watching downtown San Jose
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.

Downtown San Jose for the last decade or so has been an event-driven downtown.

A glimpse of its potential came out with events like the Jazz Festival, business and technology conventions and Sharks games. When asked what kind of downtown San Jose needs to have, the word that gets used often is “vibrant.”

Urban vibrancy is a measure of activity or energy in a district. A major component of vibrancy is an active daytime population. San Jose has been lacking that for quite some time. That’s about to change in the next five years. The next evolution of San Jose and its downtown core has begun.

The epicenter for that transformation is Diridon Station. The area around it has been underutilized and despite a Diridon Station Area Plan, it languished awaiting a master developer to kick things off. Enter Google and it’s Google @ Diridon campus.

The announcement of that project has created what I call the “Google Bounce” for the downtown San Jose properties. As reported by the Mercury News in October, downtown San Jose property sales have totaled $1.43 billion during the 12 months ending in September. That activity will now spur a huge wave of office development in downtown San Jose, bringing an avalanche of much-needed jobs to San Jose.

More than 16 million square feet of office projects are in the pipeline in downtown San Jose, as of the fourth quarter of 2018. Google @ Diridon will account for only half of this activity. Developer Jay Paul purchased Park Center Plaza and has the capability to develop 3 million square feet or more on that site.

Other notable projects include Adobe Tower 4 (1M sf), TMG’s Platform 16 (1M sf), Museum Place (850,000 sf), DiNapoli’s 200 Park Avenue, (740,000 sf), Sobrato’s Market Street Tower (500,000 sf) to name a few.

The draw is that the development boom will generate much-needed jobs to bring people to downtown San Jose on a daily basis. It will create activity and urban vibrancy that we’ve never seen before. This is not counting the hustle and bustle of the future use of the downtown San Jose BART Station and High-Speed Rail. The true economic potential of San Jose’s main urban landscape will be realized.

The realization of such economic potential brings other issues, such as the exacerbation of the affordable housing crisis, displacement and increase in traffic in downtown.

San Jose has discussed a fee on commercial development to help pay for the consequences of such a sudden transformation. That requires the city to take a more global and progressive view on how the urban landscape will be programmed. The redesign of Cesar Chavez Park needs to be in coordination with the development of the Jay Paul and Sobrato Market Street Tower projects.

Public art needs to be viewed as a major asset to a vibrant downtown — and not a punishment. The Sonic Highway temporary art installation in front of San Jose City Hall showed what a clever and interesting piece of art can do to a lifeless after-hours civic plaza. It was a huge draw and gave a positive interaction with the City Hall area.

The world will judge San Jose for how it handles the little details of this new vibrant and active downtown.

The world is watching San Jose to see if we make the choices that inspire awe and wonder or if we settle for bland and boring. This time will be remembered as the tipping point for San Jose and hopefully history will judge it kindly.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is the principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month.

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