Urban Catalyst’s Mixed-Use Icon-Echo Project Approved by San Jose Planning Commission

San Jose, Icon-Echo Towers, San Jose Planning Commission, Urban Catalyst, WRNS Studio, GLS Architecture & Landscape, Bay Area

By Kate Snyder

A proposal for a mixed-use project in the heart of downtown San Jose that developers hope will help reinvigorate the walkability of that part of the city was approved by the San Jose Planning Commission during its meeting on Wednesday. The development, called the Icon-Echo Towers, is a two-pronged plan to build 525,000 square feet of office space, 8,500 square feet of retail space and 415 condominiums on a 2.1-acre site bounded by North 4th, East Santa Clara and East St. John streets.

Peter Solar, senior project development manager at project developer Urban Catalyst, said during a presentation to the planning commission that the towers are estimated to add approximately 3,600 new residents and workers to the downtown area. The location is ideal, sitting across from City Hall and close to a future BART line, Solar said. According to him, the goal is that at least some residents of the tower housing the condominiums, called the Echo, would work in an office within the other tower, the Icon.

“We really are excited about this project,” he said. “This is a TOD project with office [space] right next door to residential [space]. We envision a user that’s going to go to work and walk home and vice versa.”

Amenities include lobby areas and hidden parking garages in each tower, Solar told commission members. The Echo is broken up into two buildings and would offer a roof deck for residents. He noted that designers tried to break up the massing with exterior stairs and outdoor space. Before construction, all existing buildings on the site, totaling approximately 22,527 square feet, would need to be demolished and 39 trees would need to be removed, according to the submitted plans. The existing buildings on the site are a tattoo shop, vacant church and a Chevron station, Solar told commissioners.

Public comments were generally positive and mostly in favor of the project, particularly in the role it could play in building up the downtown. Some commenters shared concerns, however, about the continued lack of affordable housing in the city, though some also noted that market-rate housing was also a need to be filled.

Solar emphasized that Urban Catalyst is a local developer that is only focused on projects in downtown San Jose and has a long history of building both market-rate and affordable housing for the city. In the past 20 years, he said, the firm has been involved in the construction of approximately 2,000 affordable housing units within San Jose. In response to commissioners’ questions about details regarding the housing portion, Solar said specific plans were still being worked out but the project will include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units of all different sizes with the idea of accommodating a variety of users.

Commissioner Sylvia Ornelas-Wise also made the comment that the proposal looks like two projects in one – an office tower and a residential tower – and would have liked to see it proposed as two separate developments rather than one mixed-use plan, because “both of them are very different from one another.” However, she also pointed out that the project could have been even more combined to account for the increase in remote workers.

“At the same token, I would like to have seen them combined as live-work,” she said. “Live-work seems to be that new hybrid model of what we’re going into as we move forward.”

Ornelas-Wise also asked about security around the site, specifically highlighting the need for safety for female walkers in the area. Solar answered that the estimated thousands of people going in and out of that corridor would help with eyes on the street and that the buildings would be secure with door locks, interior and exterior cameras that would be monitored and a professional management company would be handling day-to-day issues. He also said that part of the plan is to redevelop 4th Street, which would entail installing an upgraded bicycle corridor as well as upgraded lighting at 4th Street’s intersections with East St. John and East Santa Clara.

The architect for the project is WRNS Studio, based in San Francisco, and the landscape architect is GLS Architecture & Landscape, also based in San Francisco. Urban Catalyst is focused on real estate projects located in the heart of downtown San Jose, within walking distance of tech companies – including Google, Zoom and Adobe – public transportation and all of the downtown amenities, according to the firm’s website.

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News