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Dramatic downtown San Jose revamp comes into focus — new plans are just the start



Dramatic downtown San Jose revamp comes into focus — new plans are just the start
By George Avalos PUBLISHED: February 2, 2021 at 5:45 a.m. | UPDATED: February 3, 2021 at 3:57 a.m.

SAN JOSE — A real estate alliance is pushing forward with five major projects that the builders hope will transform every part of downtown San Jose and at the same time reinvent how cities and regions are developed.

The new projects would renovate a historic highrise, develop eye-catching new towers, add hundreds of homes, build 5 million square feet of offices, add restaurants and retail, and create enough space for 40,000 workers, according to plans being circulated by global developer Westbank and local developer Gary Dillabough.

“What interests me in San Jose is that there is a canvas where we can make a meaningful impact relatively quickly,” said Ian Gillespie, chief executive officer of Westbank.

The projects from Westbank, combined with Google’s transit-oriented Downtown West neighborhood, could potentially transform San Jose’s quiet downtown into a vibrant urban core.

Westbank’s gleaming new towers would replace parking lots and properties that have stagnated, as well as renovate the Bank of Italy historic tower.

“This will create a fusion of world-class architecture in our downtown,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Tuesday in an interview.

Westbank envisions a “San Jose Initiative” consisting of numerous development efforts.

“We look to make a difference. This is not a one-off with a few projects. We will have a presence over the long term,” said Andrew Jacobson, who is heading up Westbank’s San Jose initiative. Vancouver in western Canada is one city where Westbank has focused.

Westbank’s initiative starts with five projects that would sprout at six locations in downtown San Jose. Westbank aims to create a new kind of campus downtown, potentially a decade or more in the making.

“Our ambitions are greater than the first six site,” Westbank stated. “These are the first projects in our San Jose initiative and the campus will continue to grow as we layer on new projects.”

Other ventures are underway as well downtown. Adobe is constructing a striking new office tower to expand the tech titan’s downtown San Jose headquarters campus. Veteran developer Jay Paul plans several new office towers.

Westbank’s initial projects are:

— The Bank of Italy tower. The 12 S. First St. project features a complete renovation, a dramatic exterior staircase, rooftop gardens, and food amenities.

— The Energy Hub. The Fountain Alley parking lot at 35 S. Second St. This project would feature an eye-catching curving building with a 10-story atrium. The project includes 437,900 square feet of offices and 194 homes.

— The Orchard. The Valley Title site at 300 S. First St. and Bo Town property at 409 S. Second St. would add 520 homes along with offices, retail, and restaurant spaces.

— Arbor, a site next to the Davidson Building at 255 W. Julian St., would add a connecting office and retail tower totaling 512,000 square feet.

— Park Habitat, 180 Park Ave. This project consists of 1.2 million square feet of office, retail and expansion space. Park Habitat would feature a sunken garden to connect office workers and pedestrians with nature.

“Westbank understands downtown’s potential and this is evident when looking closer at their plans,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. “The vertical courtyard and sunken garden in their Park Habitat design are spectacular elements.”

Most of the five projects must work their way through the city approval process. Development of Park Habitat and a full revamp of the Bank of Italy tower are expected to be the first ones to get underway with construction.

Silicon Valley’s jaw-dropping advances in technology and life sciences have created a third industrial revolution — and created a region dotted by industrial parks and walled-off campuses and freeways choked by vehicles.

“An industrial park is not a community,” Westbank said. “An industrial park is effectively a dressed-up version of a Dickensian workhouse.”

By placing projects in San Jose’s urban core that’s served by the rail lines at the Diridon train station, some of those traffic woes can be addressed.

“Westbank’s development along with Google and Jay Paul will allow for BART and Diridon Station to be successful transit hubs,” said Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a land-use consultancy.

Canada-based Westbank sees San Jose’s downtown as an inviting canvas.

“San Jose’s underdeveloped downtown allows us the opportunity to create and curate a vibrant, urban environment,” Westbank said. “San Jose is a city with great bones” that can become “a next-generation city.”

That city of the future has definite attributes, Westbank’s Jacobson said.

“Healthy living in a city is sustainable buildings, access to fresh air, access to greenery, access to inspiring architecture,” Jacobson said. “It’s not just about San Jose, it’s about Silicon Valley, it’s about California. The status quo isn’t working. People sitting in traffic for two hours. That kind of California doesn’t inspire us.”

Full Article By George Avalos: https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/02/02/real-estate-downtown-san-jose-revamp-develop-westbank-google-adobe-tech/amp/