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San Jose’s new ‘Garden City’ is taking root, starting at Park Avenue

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A key stretch of Park Avenue in San Jose’s downtown is being transformed

By Matthew Niksa – Commercial real estate reporter, Silicon Valley Business Journal
Mar 11, 2021 Updated Mar 12, 2021, 2:53pm PST

By now, you’ve likely heard about what’s happening at the intersection of Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard in downtown San Jose.

One new office tower is under construction. Another, with a design unlike anything the city has seen before, is moving through the approval process. And a third project — the largest single office development approved to date in Silicon Valley, bigger even than Apple Park in Cupertino — spans an entire city block. It replaces a decades-old, nine-building office park with six 19-story towers connected by skybridges.

Taken together, those projects will result in more than 5.6 million square feet of new office space — a total equal to more than half of downtown San Jose’s existing office inventory.

But there’s another project you may not know well, even though it’s been in the works longer than any of those. It’s not a piece of real estate that can be bought or sold, yet it’s something that developers are willing to invest in. It’s also not a new plaza, but it is a place for people to enjoy nature.

Welcome to the Park Paseo — a “garden street” that will run down Park Avenue and feed into the historic Plaza de Cesar Chavez. A place where pedestrians and plants take precedence over vehicles.

The trio of firms responsible for the new office development along Park Avenue — Jay Paul Co., Westbank Corp. and Urban Community — have agreed to incorporate the Park Paseo framework into their project plans. Now comes the harder part: getting this stretch of Park Avenue completely built out.

If that comes to fruition — and all that office space does, too — the new Park Paseo won’t just be unlike anything San Jose has seen before. It will also serve as the springboard for a new, green downtown, before Google LLC’s planned Downtown West transit village is slated to finish and BART service there begins.

“The projects planned for Park Avenue will spearhead the revitalization of downtown and create a focal point of a renaissance for the entire city,” said Matthew Lituchy, Jay Paul’s chief investment officer.

In need of ‘daily vibrancy’

Park Avenue doesn’t carry much traffic but does carry prestige thanks to its proximity to some very desirable addresses, said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. Besides the projects mentioned above, Park runs past Adobe’s world headquarters and Riverpark Tower II. It’s got some cultural cachet, with the iconic San Jose Center for Performing Arts taking up one corner of Park and Almaden and the Tech Interactive a block away, where Park runs into the Plaza de Cesar Chavez — the oldest public open space in California.

That stretch of Park Avenue “has always had levels of vibrancy, but it has been sporadic,” said Raul Peralez, the San Jose City Council member whose district includes downtown.

“What has been lacking,” he continued, “is the daily vibrancy that a large office tenant could bring, and that is what all the new development promises to change.”

That new development is spread across three projects, two of which are being developed by Jay Paul Co. and the other by a joint venture formed by Urban Community, a San Jose real estate developer, and Westbank, a developer based in Canada. They are:

  • Jay Paul’s CityView Plaza redevelopment — a 3.8 million-square-foot Class A office campus comprised of six 19-story towers that would replace an existing office park.
  • Jay Paul’s 200 Park, a 19-story Class A office tower that’s the first new office building being built “on spec” — or without any tenants in tow — in downtown San Jose in more than a decade.
  • Westbank and Urban Community’s “Park Habitat” project at 180 Park Ave., a 20-story tower offering primarily office space as well as retail space and expansion space for the nearby Tech Interactive museum.

Downtown’s existing office inventory is about 8.5 million square feet, according to Blage Zelalich, downtown manager at San Jose’s office of economic development. Given that around a million square feet of space will be demolished as part of the three projects, the new space arrayed just along that one block of Park — assuming it’s all built — would increase the total amount of office space downtown by 54%.

‘Most vibrant corridor’

For Zelalich, the revitalization of that block represented the perfect opportunity for San Jose to double down on its paseo plans.

The city began working on a new vision for the Park Avenue/Paseo de San Antonio corridor in late 2016, teaming up with CMG Landscape Architecture, which is in charge of designing it. That was 18 months before a group of investors led by Gary Dillabough, co-founder of Urban Community, took over the redevelopment of 180 Park Ave. And it was about two-and-a-half years before Jay Paul Co. purchased the 200 Park site and unveiled its CityView redevelopment plans.

But while the city had a plan, it didn’t have the means to realize its paseo dream — until those office projects came along: “These three projects are (from) the first developers that showed up with a budget in hand … to be the manifestation of this vision,” said Elisabeth Handler, public information manager at San Jose’s office of economic development.

That vision was to create a pedestrian route that would connect San Jose State University to the Guadalupe River Park. It sprang from a desire to turn downtown into a more walkable, transit-friendly place, following the lead of cities around the nation.

The city’s initial redevelopment vision intended for Park Avenue and Paseo de San Antonio — the four-block pedestrian-only extension of Park Avenue on the east side of Plaza de Cesar Chavez — to be the “most vibrant corridor in downtown,” said Willett Moss, a founding partner of CMG.

Through multiple community meetings in 2016 and 2017, CMG and the city came up with a narrower design concept, one that showed a park stretching from San Jose State University to the Guadalupe River Park along the Paseo de San Antonio and Park Avenue.

With a design in hand, the next question was one of funding. Construction of the Park Paseo project is not part of San Jose’s budget, Zelalich said. Fortunately for the city, Jay Paul Co., Westbank and Urban Community were willing to integrate the Park Paseo concept into the off-site improvement plans for their projects.

Zelalich said it’s too early to say what Park Paseo’s expected price tag will be.

With the developers’ commitment to help implement the Park Paseo, CMG went back to work on its design. The San Francisco-based firm modified it further to create a curbless garden street with equal amounts of greenery and pavement. Under the new plan, that garden street — which would still leave room for cars to pass — would go from the Plaza de Cesar Chavez to the corner of Almaden Boulevard. On the block immediately west of that stretch, two one-way roads would border a large gathering area.

“We had the opportunity to incorporate the redesign of Park Avenue and implement the design guidelines … with these three projects that were basically trying to come out of the ground in very close timing to each other,” Zelalich said. “It was really an unusual opportunity that we wanted to jump on right away.”

There are still a number of moving parts associated with Park Paseo. Its design hasn’t yet been finalized. San Jose officials are in discussions with Jay Paul and the Urban Community-Westbank joint venture about how to divvy up the construction costs and the responsibility for realigning the street. Meanwhile, the completion of the first chunk of Park Paseo is tied to when the construction of Jay Paul’s 200 Park finishes. The latter is slated to happen by the third quarter of 2023.

That said, the Park Paseo project team has between 90% to 95% of the stretch of Park Avenue between Plaza de Cesar Chavez and the intersection of Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard “figured out,” Zelalich said. That remaining 5-10% — primarily the portion of the street facing the Tech Interactive — is the difference between achieving a new garden street and “a smile that’s got two or three teeth missing in its mouth,” she said.

“We want the re-envisioned Park Avenue to be like a beautiful smile,” Zelalich said. “We’re in the process of identifying where those funds come from and how they cover the part of the project that’s not most obviously incorporated into any proposed development.”

Opening doors

Turning that stretch of Park Avenue into a park and a heavily planted street will help create a more pedestrian-friendly corridor between the Guadalupe River Park and Plaza de Cesar Chavez. And it ought to bring more people to downtown. That’s a crucial factor given the hit the city’s retail and restaurant scene has taken during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the developers, a more aesthetically pleasing green space at the doorstep to their projects creates another tool to market them to prospective tenants looking for an urban, mixed-use environment.

Jay Paul Co. worked with the architecture firm Gensler to design its CityView Plaza redevelopment. The plans include natural gathering spaces along Park Avenue that act as “front doors” to the planned campus, said Ben Tranel, a principal at Gensler’s San Francisco office and CityView’s lead designer.

The development has multiple entrance points, depending on how someone arrives and what they’re there for, Tranel said. Along Park Avenue, the project team aspired to create a generous amount of plaza space that feels open and publicly accessible.

In all, the team created four separate plazas for CityView. The point of those plazas — as well as a paseo and a central promenade that both run through the project — is to create “multiple points of engagement” for the public, said Richard Kennedy, a senior principal at James Corner Field Operations who’s in charge of the CityView redevelopment’s open spaces.

“That network of spaces that we’re creating offers a number of those moments where everyone can find their own space,” Kennedy said. “It’s more about creating a variety of spaces rather than trying to repeat what Plaza de Cesar Chavez is providing.”

Because the reimagined CityView occupies a large portion of Park Avenue, it’s critical that the components of its open spaces look and feel as if they are coordinated and complement one another, Kennedy said. The goal is to create “an intentional ensemble of spaces for pedestrians and the public,” he added, explaining that it’s an effort toward supporting a larger vision of a more connected, pedestrian-oriented and green downtown.

On the south side of Park Avenue, across from CityView, is Jay Paul Co.’s 200 Park. That under-construction tower also treats Park Avenue as its front door, Tranel said, by locating its parking access and a loading dock away from the street so that the project feels connected to the public realm.

The final office development proposed for that stretch of Park Avenue is Urban Community and Westbank’s Park Habitat, located between 200 Park and the Tech Interactive. The project is designed to connect people to nature, Dillabough of Urban Community said. Gardens line the planned tower’s rooftop and an open-air atrium dubbed “The Green Lung” would increase fresh-air ventilation and bathe its interior in natural light.

“It’s almost nice serendipity that these two philosophies are coming together,” Dillabough said, referring to Park Habitat and Park Paseo. The revitalized stretch of Park Avenue “is going to be exceptional,” he said. “But I hope it’s just the beginning. I hope it becomes just one of a series of amazing places in the Valley and downtown.”

Full Article By Matthew Niksa: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2021/03/11/future-of-downtown-san-jose-park-avenue.html