By Naib Mian
Long neglected, San Jose’s St. James Park is on the verge of reactivation with operational changes and several development projects in the works that will bring an influx of people to the area.[contextly_sidebar id=”j0Lyv3Wk0YzeGCzvxh8F9AzdQGLWT384″]“The park has been forlorn for decades,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. “There’s a community-wide interest and opportunity for looking at this faded jewel. Everyone wants to see changes in the park.”
The historic mostly residential neighborhood around the park is minutes from the city’s downtown hub, but it lacks many of the amenities that often attract residents and visitors. With new retail, residential and office space as well as efforts to redesign and revitalize the area, developers and community leaders are hoping for a long-awaited revival.
“St. James Park is somewhat in a transition right now,” said James Reber, executive director of the San Jose Parks Foundation. “I’m hoping people will be more engaged with the park as we work on activities to bring people in.”
Barry Swenson Builder’s Park View Towers will bring two high-rise buildings to the north end of the park by the end of 2018. The project will include 220 condominium units, 18,000 square feet of retail and renovations to the First Church of Christ Scientist.
On the opposite side of the park, San Diego-based Fairfield Residential has proposed a 195-unit apartment complex called Marshall Squares that will wrap around the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The development will also include lower-level café and restaurant space. Both of these projects will bring more people to the park, either as residents or shoppers coming from San Jose’s nearby business district.
“We’re hoping with new housing and more families, they will utilize the park more on a regular basis, get the city to help activate that and clean up the area,” said Christy Marbry, senior development manager at San Jose-based Barry Swenson Builder.
The retail amenities these projects will bring are much needed, Reber said. “It is unusual to have a park without restaurants,” he said. “There’s even talk of a café in the park.”
These new developments, however, are only part of St. James’ revival. With hopes of directing park fees toward the park’s operation and management, Knies said the downtown association is looking at a major announcement later this year with the city’s parks and recreation department regarding park planning.
“There’s a call for more activation, events and programming as well as services for the unhoused,” Knies said. Both operational plans and design decisions, he said, need to be made through a community process. “We want to get a world-class landscape architecture firm in here and hold community meetings. Whether it’s residential, commercial, the church—all those voices need to be heard.”
Knies expects this year-long process could begin as early as next year along with simultaneous programming such as concerts and yoga classes in an effort to change the character of the park, which has long attracted homeless people and faced problems with criminal activity.
Reber said these changes will benefit everyone. “If [the park is] activated, it will be safer for everybody.”