Plans to revamp an old office building on the corner of First and Santa Clara streets are too drab and unambitious for the core of a major city, according to the San Jose Downtown Association.
On June 30, Saratoga Capital submitted a proposal to add another floor to the four-story red brick building at 1 N. First St., which houses Lincoln Law School and Meriwest Credit Union, and convert some of the upper stories into residential units. But Henry Cord, who chairs the downtown association's Advocacy Committee, told Mayor Sam Liccardo that San Jose should hold out for a better proposal.
"As a strong property rights and market forces advocate, SJDA has agonized over its conclusion that this is the wrong solution for this site," Cord wrote in the July 17 letter. "In looking at downtown development proposals, SJDA does not want 'perfect to be the enemy of good' and curtail today's investment for the promise of a better project many years down the road. Nevertheless, we should not compromise today for a lesser project on this site."
The project is under preliminary review by city planners, so it's too early to say whether it even complies with the city's general plan and downtown zoning, Cord noted. But the SJDA committee already decided in a harsh critique that, as submitted, the plan isn't dense enough or interesting enough for that corner.
"This prominent corner deserves a taller building with more engaging architecture that understands its forward-looking place on the doorstep of BART as well as its historic context kitty corner from the old B of A tower," Cord wrote.
A high rise would be more fitting, agreed SJDA Executive Director Scott Knies.
"It should be taller and serve more people," he said.
Cord seemed especially unimpressed with the "ordinary" design, which he said could have been copped from any boilerplate mixed-use project in California.
He also criticized Saratoga Capital's attempt to grandfather in the no-parking requirement, which he said gives the proposal "a square-peg-into-round-hole feel."
Saratoga Capital did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this month, Silicon Valley Business Journal reporter Nate Donato-Weinstein interviewed Kirk Kozlowski of Saratoga Capital, who shared details about his tentative blueprint for the 82,000-square-foot building. In that article, downtown Councilman Raul Peralez came out against the proposal over concerns that San Jose can't afford to lose any more commercial space to housing conversions.
This new letter from the downtown associations raises more concerns about whether Saratoga Capital's vision aligns with the community's big-picture plan for the city center.
The building is on a block shared with the Valley Transportation Authority and includes a public parking lot, VTA offices and ground-floor retail. It pales in comparison to the vertical blue-whale One South Market, a 23-story apartment building that recently opened up nearby.
Cord said the proposal should spark a discussion about the city's aspirations for that part of town, a corridor slated for a future BART station and other major development.
"What are the investments envisioned and encouraged for downtown 'super blocks' like Mitchell—[site of the Saratoga Capital Project]—Valley Title or Greyhound?" he wrote. "Will public plazas, pocket parks or paseos be required? Is ... the addition of more parking spaces needed? Minimum densities or heights? Certain percentage of sites dedicated to office? Will the big parcels like Mitchell be allowed to develop piecemeal and how does the first project 'set the tone' for the rest of the block?"
Ultimately, Cord said, the long-term benefits of a future high-rise outweigh the short-term gains of rehabbing the existing building.