Santa Clara Plots Ambitious Downtown Development Plans

Downtown Gateway
Downtown Gateway
Downtown Gateway

By David Goll

Just like adjacent Levi’s Stadium — the $1.2 billion, 68,500-seat home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of Super Bowl 50 in February — the proposed City Place development has been grabbing lots of attention for Santa Clara.

The planned $6.5 billion mixed-use development, dubbed “Downtown Silicon Valley,” will become a regional hub sprawling across 239 acres and eventually encompass 9.2 million square feet of office, residential, retail and entertainment venues.

[contextly_sidebar id=”aO4NwXlqZqbpRQm7uyJx11aHv6sNTCan”]It’s emblematic of Santa Clara’s Bayshore district sprouting north of Highway 101, where tens of thousands of visitors and media from around the world will descend for the 2016 Super Bowl.

On the other side of freeway, the pace is a bit less frenetic. There are a few more reminders of when the formerly agricultural region was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight instead of Silicon Valley. It’s the quieter, more historic side of town south of 101, where residents and officials of the city and Santa Clara University are seeking to rekindle a downtown area lost to urban renewal more than 50 years ago.

“Our residents want us to create a downtown especially for Santa Clarans themselves,” said Julio Fuentes, city manager for the city of 120,000 that traces its roots back to the founding of the original Mission Santa Clara in 1777.

To that end, Fuentes and other city officials have hosted three public meetings this fall for residents to discuss features they’d like to see in a revitalized Mission City core. City leaders have taken a back seat, allowing a core group of about 25 to 30 residents to brainstorm about their hometown’s new downtown. The city also solicited comments from residents on its web site.

“They are asking us to create a boutique downtown with locally owned shops, restaurants and services,” Fuentes said. “A place to call their own.”

Long a jumble of disparate small businesses, older houses and vacant lots, the old downtown is just beginning to stir to life. Centered on Franklin Street and bounded by El Camino Real and the Caltrain station on the east and including the Santa Clara University campus, the district contains a mix of privately owned parcels, as well as those owned by the city and the Jesuit-operated university.

Earlier this year, the Santa Clara City Council approved a 44-unit condominium project with 14,500-square-feet of ground-floor retail space at 1313 Franklin St. To be built by Sunnyvale-based SiliconSage Builders LLC, the pioneering Downtown Gateway project will be the first such development in the district in more than 20 years.

Another project is the 417-unit apartment development called Mission Town Center at Benton Street and El Camino Real to be built by The Irvine Co. of Newport Beach. It will include 26,000 square feet of retail.

Mayor Jamie Matthews said the massive City Place project has made it possible to consider a greater variety of uses in the city’s re-born downtown area. “We are great at creating (research and development) and other kinds of high-tech jobs,” he said. “We have not been as good at promoting retail. That’s beginning to change.”

He cited not only the yet-to-be-built City Place, but also Santa Clara Town Centre on El Camino Real, a reincarnation of the old Mervyn’s Plaza that opened last year. It’s anchored by a 140,000-square-foot Target.

“This has been a wonderful exercise,” Matthews said of the three community meetings. “We (city officials) are standing back and letting the process take its course.”

Based on public input so far, as well as the wishes of city officials, Matthews said he envisions the creation of a “walkable district” for visitors and commuters from nearby Caltrain, BART and high-speed rail service many years in the future.

“People want [downtown] Campbell, Los Gatos or Los Altos,” Matthews said of those thriving central business districts comprised mostly of small, locally owned shops and cafes.

The final public meeting on resurrecting Santa Clara’s downtown is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 in City Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave.

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