Keeping a concentrated business district is essential for downtown

With the news of KT Urban’s new conceptual plans for a 24 story residential tower on the forlorn and soon to be empty Family Court building on the corner of Park and Almaden Boulevard (SVBJ:, comes the debate about zoning and mixing business towers with residential towers.

Because less stringent zoning was brought to downtown in the 90’s, “Downtown core” allows almost anything mixed-use, commercial, and entertainment related to be built in downtown. From the map below, “Downtown core” represents the zoning for all but a few pockets of downtown (full interactive zoning map available here:

Downtown Core zoning map

But now as residential towers are seeing traction, the “DC” zoning is proving to be more of a challenge in retaining land for future commercial towers. The KT Urban concept is fantastic. The former KT properties has found great success in downtown even though the Axis defaulted in the down years. They are currently one of a few developers pushing building design and getting projects built in the city.

KT Urban park avenue

But this concept sits in the wrong location. This corner is ideal for redevelopment into a commercial building, or hotel with convention space and retail. This blog is a huge advocate of density in residential and pushing growth in downtown. But planning where these towers go, is just as important as having them built. Smart growth and planning are something San Jose has lacked for half a century.

But going forward, the city should push to keep the central business district along Almaden Boulevard close to  Diridon Station and future BART. Public transit, especially Caltrain has been a large driving factor for business and commercial growth along the peninsula and San Francisco. This should continue to be the focus in planning for the downtown business district as well.

The demand for housing units is at an all time high and the city wants to get more people downtown, so KT Urban’s concept looks to fill a need. But soon downtown commercial vacancy will reach a point where commercial buildings will be in demand. Though this is one proposal, if successful and with KT tract record it will be, it becomes a slippery slope. At what point does the city say no. After 2 or 3 future commercial towers parcels are used? Just like when 1 South Market was approved to become a residential tower instead of a commercial tower, the decision comes once again, hold out for a more fitting use of the land, or take what is available? And that is the renewed debate.

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5 thoughts on “Keeping a concentrated business district is essential for downtown

  • doug matsom

    Bad idea

  • Dumbar Rollo

    Downtown needs all the development it can get regardless of it uses. Don’t mess with the market and the Goose laid the golden egg! KT is downtown’s hero and savior. Without them, downtown wouldn’t have boomed or flourish. There are plenty of sites like Sobrato block 2 and 8. The parcel near city hall would also be offices, too. If housing takes them all a swoop, it’s fine, because downtown is a Social District with a capital “S”!

  • Seth

    Personally I’d prefer that all the buildings were mixed. Put some more business towers down here near 4th/5th so we don’t end up with a business district that’s dead at night, ala the Financial Dist in SF. That place is a wasteland after 6pm.

    Let’s keep the entire downtown lively at all hours, not just small concentrated areas at certain times.

  • SL

    I agree with Seth, mix and match! Let’s have residential in Park Center and spread the business district elsewhere as well.

    I also hope they could keep the shell of the “Brutalist” architecture and have the building spring out from inside of it. That could be really cool. Not sure if it will work with the parking structure underneath (there may be too little capacity or at least need to block it off from the rest of the parking structure underneath?!?

    We lose too many buildings in San Jose. I know it’s not 50 years old and it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but the fact that it is the strongest example of Brutalist architecture and that it had a famous architect should help it a bit – but probably not enough in San Jose.

    “San Jose – has a rich history of getting rid of it’s rich history”
    (I’ve been saying this for years)

    • John Pastier

      “I know it’s not 50 years old and it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but the fact that it is the strongest example of Brutalist architecture and that it had a famous architect should help it a bit…”

      Who’s the famous architect?
      I think the strongest example of Brutalist architecture in SJ is is the transmission tower on top of Communications Hill.

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