The parking lot is a famous one in downtown San Jose. At the corners of Market and San Carlos and across from the historic St. Claire Hotel, sits a prime piece of land that is slotted for development. This land was bought by Sobrato a few years ago during the sell off of some of the RDA properties and has had previous developments proposed for it. One such development had the tower adjacent to the parking lot torn down and two new condo/apartment highrises going up. This fell through when the developer want to go higher but the FAA height limits set for the property limited it. So it sits.
But Sobrato has seemed hesitant to jump into the downtown market with new construction. As for highrises, Sobrato’s only significant building was the 18 story building on Almaden now occupied by Oracle and PWC. That was completed in 2002, and didn’t find a tenant until 2006. Part of that was the market, but downtown has seen significant growth and just posted under 20% commercial vacancy rates for the first time in several years.
Now is the time for Sobrato to put their foot forward and make another destination in downtown. They have the experience, they have the money, and they have the city’s support, so get the ball rolling. Though no plans have been released for this property under Sobrato’s ownership, one idea that might be worth taking a look at is a hotel condo mixed-use development.
A hotel condo makes a lot of sense. First, it allows a more luxury clientele an opportunity to get into downtown, with full hotel services like concierge, 24/7 room service, doormen, and valet. Second, hotel rooms will be needed in San Jose and Silicon Valley as businesses and development expand, and large events like the Super Bowl become more common with Levi’s Stadium a few miles north up 1st street. Third, this type of project would become the first vacation highrise building in downtown San Jose and maybe all of Silicon Valley. Though not exclusively, most hotel condo projects like this are in vacation markets and are purchased as a vacation homes. But a significant benefit of this is that the condos can also be rented out in the interim when the owner is not staying there. This option is one of the best things about this project because it could allow business travelers another option. Rather than staying in a hotel room, they could have a condo for a weekend while they attend a conference at the convention center. It’s the flexibility of this project that is beneficial. Being able to attract multiple types of clients is essential for diversifying the downtown scene. Attracting the vacation crowd is something that is unprecedented in downtown development, and could prove to be a highly successful risk.
To further the mix-use aspect of the project would be ground level retail, an essential part of street level activation. The location of this property is its biggest positive. It has three major streets surrounding it, and is across the street from VTA light rail and buses. Foot traffic comes from the SOFA district just a traffic light away and from SJSU just a few blocks east. The property also sits within a 5 minute walk from numerous restaurants, museums, theaters, live music venues, the convention center, and festivals like Christmas in the Park and Subzero. Multiple restaurants, pubs, bars, or breweries could fill in nicely along any of the three streets, creating important pedestrian connections. Amazingly, with Plaza de Cesar Chavez across the street, the only cafe’s or restaurants that face it are at the Fairmont Hotel and Annex. So by building mixed-use retail, it would create more food options with a views overlooking the park. Again this would increase the pedestrian activity within the plaza, creating a more vibrant urban space.
The potential is sitting there waiting to be brought to life, and Sobrato has the tools and the money to do it. Now it’s just a matter of getting the development company to buy in again to downtown San Jose and the bright future that it holds as the urban epicenter of Silicon Valley.