As expected, the San Jose City Council approved the Draft Diridon Station Area Plan, which seeks to transform much of the area around the current transit hub into a destination district anchored by HP Pavilion and Cisco Field. Next up is an EIR for the entire 240-acre vision. Projected impacts will probably force a scaling down of the vision, especially because of limited future redevelopment funds.
Tracy Seipel’s article makes mention of the potential need for a master developer, as was the case for Mission Bay (Wilson Meany Sullivan) and the Kansas City Power and Light district (Cordish). The same strategy was employed during planning for the Fremont ballpark, with Gensler as the master developer. While such a strategy could properly unify what would probably be disparate elements of the plan, threats to redevelopment make such a broad scope less realistic. As long as the plan sets out proper guidelines for how development should occur (which it does), the spirit of the area plan should be fairly easy to uphold. Just about everything larger than a single family house will require an EIR on its own.
Lew Wolff said in the past few months that he wouldn’t have anything to do with developing the critical Central area framed by the train station, arena, and ballpark. Knowing how the city fathers have failed time and time again in trying to turn the original downtown into a viable retail district, current civic leaders and developers should not have grand designs on proceeding down a similar path with this. There are three key reasons:
- No free parking. I don’t mean validated parking, I mean unfettered free parking. Valley shoppers are too used to it and won’t react well to not having it, even if it’s a good idea to charge from a multimodal planning standpoint. Even though Valley Fair and Santana Row are logistical nightmares during the holiday shopping season, people deal with it. A big reason for this is free parking.
- Inflexibility with events at the arena and ballpark. Parking and access will be heavily impact on event days, especially days when events are happening at both venues. It could create an environment in which locals stay away from the area while events are on. Locals want convenience, and events make convenience difficult to achieve.
- Market conditions. Development could stretch out over a decade after the project begins thanks to the timing of the BART and HSR projects. That could make it difficult for developers and retailers to gamble on moving in as long as the area remains in a seemingly perpetual state of upheaval.
Historically, San Jose has sought to bring in high-end brands to attract the more well-heeled. The Pavilion downtown failed miserably in that regard, and stopped being a mall over a decade ago. Santana Row opened with numerous tony boutiques. Several years later, most of them have been replaced by typical mall stores.
None of this is to say that the Central area can’t be successful. There is one brand that could conceivably defy San Jose’s jinx and make things work in the end: Apple. Apple could open a store in a toxic waste dump and it’d be successful. They’ve looked at opening stores at or inside highly trafficked transit hubs, including Grand Central Terminal. So if there’s one tenant that the developers and landlords should pursue, it’s the Cupertino tech company. But wouldn’t it be ironic if this district, which at 900-feet long is less than a block shorter than Santana Row, stole business from the San Pedro and SoFA neighborhoods? I could see it.