Bold Plan Envisions Large New Regional Destination in San Jose

San Jose, Bay Area news, Diridon Station Area Plan, Fairfield Residential, Chandler Pratt & Partners, SAP Center, Caltrain, BART, high speed rail

San Jose Diridon Station real estate The Registry

By Neil Gonzales

It might take a while, but San Jose envisions a large swath near downtown eventually being transformed into a transit-oriented high-tech/entertainment core with iconic architecture and alluring public places.

[contextly_sidebar id=”16f8808f1df973f9847de0510de01e2c”]The ambitious Diridon Station Area Plan would integrate transportation; commercial, retail and residential development; sports and nightlife venues; and open spaces within 250 acres just west of downtown San Jose. The area would be home to innovative companies and a Major League Baseball stadium. It would include an extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit and a stop for the state’s high-speed rail system. It also would have bicycle and pedestrian connections to downtown and mass transportation.

“One key objective is creating it as a regional destination for work, living and entertainment,” San Jose’s Senior Planner Michael Brilliot said.

The plan—which the City Council approved last month and guides growth in the area for the next 30 years—would essentially extend downtown westward, making the entire expanded city center a walkable, entertainment-filled live-work zone. The area already includes the SAP Center, which hosts professional athletic contests, music concerts and other events. The area’s future development also would continue downtown’s current renaissance, which in recent years has seen about 90 tech companies move in, the construction of high-rise apartment towers and a new sparkling City Hall complex.

“This area will be a great complement to downtown, ultimately serving to expand the urban core—especially as the connectivity between [the Diridon Station area and downtown] gets built out,” said Shiloh Ballard, senior vice president of housing and community development for the public policy business trade organization Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

“Already people walk to and from downtown and Diridon, and this will help solidify downtown’s extension into this area,” Ballard said. “We view it as a necessary and appropriate outgrowth and extension of San Jose’s downtown, which will help San Jose and the region achieve its community and economic development goals as well as our sustainability targets.”

The plan—centered around the Diridon Transit Center, which serves the Caltrain, bus and other transportation systems—calls for nearly 5 million square feet of office space, 420,000 square feet of retail, more than 2,500 residential units and 900 hotel rooms. Whether there will be sustainable market demand over the years to actually build all that is still a huge question, but early signs of developer interest in the area have emerged.

“It will take time, but we’re already starting to see projects—largely residential—occurring and companies looking for an urban location in San Jose,” Brilliot said. “We’re hopeful [commercial development] will start happening in the next five years, but housing is now.”

Residential projects are primarily targeted for the southern part of the plan area, which is the most likely to develop first, he said. High-density housing projects are already under way there, including one by San Diego-based developer Fairfield Residential at West San Carlos and Sunol streets.

In the northern part, Burbank, Calif.-based developer Chandler Pratt & Partners is moving forward on a mixed-use project on The Alameda near the transit center. Right next to this project is the home of a new Whole Foods market.

Commercial development could still pick up more quickly than expected because the trend these days is firms gravitating toward urban locations near transit hubs, Brilliot said. “So it could happen sooner.”

The completion of new transit infrastructure such as a BART station, the electrification of Caltrain or the accommodation of high-speed rail would only spur commercial and retail development in the plan area, he added.

What would really be a catalyst for development is the A’s baseball team moving from Oakland to a ballpark eyed in the central part of the plan area, he said.

“If that happens, developers will be falling over themselves, gobbling up property,” he said. But if the A’s do not make that move and the ballpark is not built, office and retail space could go in that location instead.

The plan also seeks an extensive network of bike and pedestrian paths, parks and other green spaces, public art and world-class architecture. The architecture would be modern and reflect Silicon Valley’s innovative spirit, Brilliot said.

A major challenge in the plan, though, is making sure a certain level of affordable housing is achieved. “It’s definitely going to be a big concern,” said Elizabeth Wampler, associate initiative officer for the Great Communities Collaborative, a network of organizations pushing for affordable neighborhoods linked to transit and other amenities. “There’s not very much dedicated funding for affordable housing in San Jose, the region or the state.”

The plan requires that 15 percent of the residential units built be affordable to low-income households. Pursuing development agreements, using funds from a housing impact fee and building on public land are among the strategies to reach that goal, Wampler said.

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