Fate of San Jose Flea Market Decided as San Jose City Council Unanimously Approves Redevelopment Project

Borelli Investment Company and The Schoennauer Company
Courtesy of Market Park San Jose

By Meghan Hall and Vladimir Bosanac

A long debate over the future of a 65-acre parcel in San Jose–and La Pulga, a historic flea market–has finally come to an end. In a 11-0 vote on Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council gave property owner, the Bumb family, the official green light to move forward with a proposal that would bring 3,450 residences and up to 3.4 million square feet of commercial, office and retail space to a lot adjacent to San Jose’s Berryessa BART Station.

The decision comes after about a week of intense negotiations between the development team, City officials and the wider community. The City Council had intended to make a decision last week, but its session ran late into the night and continued well into the following morning. Hundreds of San Jose residents called in or spoke out against the project, and the Flea Market vendors began a hunger strike that gained national support and attention.

The Flea Market has a rich history that began in 1960, when George Bumb, Sr., the patriarch of the family, opened it with only 20 vendors at the time. Today, La Pulga, as it is affectionately called by those who visit it frequently, attracts over four million visitors a year, and countless small businesses and families trace their roots to this market. Furthermore, the market is a major source of income for its vendors and a vibrant part of the community, and it is mainly frequented by monitories, people of color and immigrants. The closure and redevelopment of this property, therefore, would disproportionately affect those groups.

More than 430 vendors call La Pulga home. “The Flea Market is a treasure. It is an institution. It is an incubator and an example of entrepreneurship and hard work and all of the things we should be proud of,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones at last week’s meeting. 

As a result of community opposition and feedback, a number of measures have now been taken to ensure a smoother transition for the vendors. First, a five-acre segment of the development will be set aside for the continuation of the market, although many acknowledged that the acreage would not be able to accommodate all of the vendors.  A $5  million fund has been set up–to be initially paid for by the Bumb family–that will help vendors pay to move their businesses. A flea market advisory group will also be established and is intended to give vendors a say in how the new market will evolve. The advisory group will have a supermajority and will also include Bumb family representatives and city officials.

Additionally, the Bumb family is to give at least one-year written notice of planned closure or suspension of operations of the market. Currently, vendors rent space within the market on a month-to-month basis. However, at the request of the City Council, the Bumb family will offer vendors six months licensing agreements for space.

The Bumb family does not immediately intend to break ground on the project, and there is about a three year time frame in which the property owner can serve notice to vendors. This time, however, will be valuable for businesses as they figure out next steps.

The timeline for construction of the project is also still up in the air. The Bumb family and its representatives–Borelli Investment Company and The Schoennauer Company–have yet to formalize its development schemes or hire a development team. Those milestones will be forthcoming. For now, however, all parties will continue to negotiate and hash out supportive measures for the vendors displaced by the project.

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News