By Meghan Hall
There are few large, open parcels left for redevelopment in downtown San Jose, and those remaining have the potential to greatly shape how the city’s core continues to develop. For a 12-acre site situated between 14th and 17th Streets on East Santa Clara, the Santa Clara Housing Authority (SCCHA) and County of Santa Clara (CoSC) have teamed up to propose an ambitious development plan that will, they hope, revitalize one of downtown’s quieter retail corridors. The final draft, released at the end of April, indicates plans to construct between 550 and 800 housing units, more than 320,000 square feet of office space and between 5,200 and 11,300 square feet of retail in the Julian Saint James neighborhood.
“The County had this property; they’ve owned it for about 15 years, but there hasn’t been a lot of momentum in getting it planned,” explained Katherine Harasz, executive director for the SCCHA. “I think it is one of the largest undeveloped parcels in the vicinity of downtown San Jose, so I think it’s a fairly important property.”
Five acres of the site is owned by SCCHA , while seven acres are owned by CoSC; the sites will be developed separately by the two public entities. However, both SCCHA and CoSC sought to create a highly-integrated mixed-use project that would result in a variety of housing opportunities for those of various income levels and flexible office and retail. The site area was previously developed with the San Jose Medical Center and related medical office buildings. However, the site has sat vacant since the Medical Center closed in December 2004 and was demolished in early 2011. In 2010, the County purchased the site and one remaining building g was remodeled into the current Mediplex building, and the Valley Health Center Downtown opened in 2016. SCCHA purchased its five acres in 2017 and the property is primarily vacant except for the north side of E. St. John St., which contains a parking lot.
Given the site’s historic and current uses, the SCCHA and CoSC settled on pursuing development that would focus on health and wellness.
“We work closely with the County, so there was a natural synergy between our two organizations to connect housing with health and the health of individuals,” said Harasz. “There was a natural connection between the social services of the County and the safety net and affordability programs that the Housing Authority operates. It made sense to maximize our resources and maximize the use of the site.”
The Master Plan indicates that taller office buildings will rise along East Santa Clara St. to reinforce massing concepts established in the East Santa Clara Village Plan. The buildings then taper in height to no more than four stories along East John St. and three stories near adjacent residential development. Two north-south connections throughout the site will serve to connect the Naglee Park and Julian St. James neighborhoods and six pedestrian entries, including a plaza on E. Santa Clara and 15th St., will serve to connect to the development to the pedestrian realm. The housing tower, which will rise up to a maximum of 180 feet in height, will be located at the center of the site to accommodate density in a centralized location, focus the building’s mass away from other surrounding houses and include a variety of income levels. The office buildings will be designed to accommodate a variety of tenants but will emphasize employee wellness.
An approximately 12,000 square foot new Customer Service Center for the SCCHA will be located on the ground floor of the first office building at 14th St. and East Santa Clara St. The location of the new SCCHA office, said Harasz, would increase SCCHA’s visibility to vulnerable populations in the area.
“Our mission is to build affordable housing and to administer the voucher program,” said Harasz. “Our intention is to use the property to help effectuate that mission. We’re very excited at the prospect of moving to the neighborhood and at being able to provide a better resource for customers.”
The Julian Saint James neighborhood is located just outside the downtown core of San Jose and is bounded by E. Santa Clara St., N. 13th St. and Roosevelt Park. The neighborhood and the area immediately surrounding the site are home to many local shops and businesses, although Julian Saint James has suffered from limited activity over the course of the last decade due to the closing of the site’s previous hospital.
“Hospitals are huge employment centers; they’re a beehive of activity with contractors and employees and vendors,” explained Harasz. “Once that disappeared, that activity was gone, and that impacted all of the surrounding businesses because a huge employer left.”
The Plan will be carried out in three phases, all of which SCCHA and CoSC hope will activate and revitalize the neighborhood. The first phase of development, currently going through the entitlements process, will include the 5 acre SCCHA property and around 300 residential units, as well as between 158,000 and 191,000 square feet of office and retail. Phase Two will construct between 250 and 485 residential units, while Phase Three will bring around another 162,000 square feet of office to the site.
“Bringing people to that area will enliven the site,” said Harasz. “Hopefully, it will provide some rejuvenation of the retail that is there and perhaps some of the vacant sites will find a purpose. We’re hoping all of those things will help activate the neighborhood.”