Scott Knies hopes the artist renderings of a Hampton Inn planned for a prime slice of land in downtown San Jose are just placeholders until developers come up with a real design. The executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association saw drawings of the six-story hotel proposed for the corner of Highway 87 and Santa Clara Street for the first time earlier this week.
His reaction to the design, to paraphrase: Dear, god, no.
“It looks like something you’d see on the side of the freeway in Tracy,” Knies says, adding that the first thing he’d change are the garish red light-up plastic signs with the inn’s name. “We don’t want a suburban style in an urban center.”
Computer-sketched drawings show a blocky white building covered in a stark grid of square windows. Palm trees line two sides of the perfectly square perimeter, like the typical roadside lodge in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA. Knies and others argue that there is no architectural distinction, no character—nothing that would allow it to hold its own caddy-corner from the historic DeAnza Hotel. The proposed hotel is certainly not the type of architecture one would want as the welcoming sight to the downtown of the 10th largest city in the nation, he argues.
“That’s a very prominent site, kind of the gateway of downtown, so it’s very visible,” Knies notes. “We would like to see the architecture of the hotel recognize the prominence of that location and its role as an entryway in downtown.”
Joseph Horwedel, San Jose’s director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement, had pretty much the same reaction as Knies to the just-submitted renderings: It’s fine for Tracy, but not for the capitol of Silicon Valley. (Apologies to Tracy for the condescending comparisons. But seriously, Tracy. You know what you are.)
“The designs submitted, that is not a building that the staff would support,” Horwedel says. “We think there’s a better fit for an urban area. ... We’re going back and forth with their architect to see if they can come up with a design that projects an image reflective of the downtown area.”
FPG Development Group says it set its sights on San Jose because it’s a hub of technology and commerce, and home to some of the biggest companies in the world. San Jose has 9 million square feet of office space and a consistent 80-percent or more hotel occupancy rate. The half-acre site downtown, empty for decades, sits in between the Adobe Systems buildings and the 87 freeway that pumps traffic into the heart of the city.
It’s too early to tell what the final design will look like, Knies says, making it a little early to pass final judgment. Developers haven’t yet returned calls for comment, and neither has downtown’s Councilman Sam Liccardo.
The city and developers will presumably meet with community stakeholders—residents, the downtown association and whoever else cares to chime in—at a series of public hearings, as the proposal makes its way through the city’s planning process.
The city may schedule an ad hoc meeting about the whole deal in early April, but nothing’s been scheduled yet. A public hearing about the development permit will likely be held in May, according to city officials.
FPG says on its website that it guesstimates a timeframe of about six months to gain approval for the 162-room, 100,000-sq.-foot project. That’s an aggressive schedule by Horwedel’s standards. But since a hotel serves the city’s economic development interests and promises to boost tax revenues, municipal planners will try their best to get this project moving, Horwedel adds.
The biggest issue is purely cosmetic. Horwedel and Knies just want some back-and-forth about the design. Another priority is how to fill up the ground-floor retail space to make it appealing to pedestrians. Developers want the hotel to house a restaurant and shops. Parking is bound to be an issue, too, Knies says.
“We just learned about this thing, so we don’t really know much of anything about it yet,” Knies says. “We’re going to talk about it the design, look at the proposal and meet with the developer to learn more about what they have planned. We’d like to understand it better before we come up with a formal position on how it looks, or anything else. We will have a lot of input going forward.”