A new San Jose non-profit public benefit corporation has taken root to launch a coordinated public/private effort to revitalize and expand Plaza de Cesar Chavez at the center of the city’s downtown.
The conservancy, in a presentation to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on Dec. 6, envisions a “Central Park for downtown San Jose,” building on what it calls “a new wave of development [that] has begun to transform the area around Plaza de Cesar Chavez.”
In its presentation, the conservancy foresees an expanded park with fewer surrounding traffic lanes, a new stage and renovation of the more than century-old greenspace where the majestic old City Hall once stood.
One of the new non-profit’s board members is Maia Harris of the Jay Paul Company, a San Francisco developer planning a large office complex running along the western length of the park. If Jay Paul’s ambitious plans are realized, the block between Park Avenue and E. San Fernando Street that runs from Almaden Boulevard to Plaza de Cesar Chavez would be home to eight new office towers and Park Avenue would become a curbless “garden street,” with equal amounts of greenery and pavement.
Other trustees announced by the conservancy are: nonprofit executive Richard Ajluni, who was elected as treasurer, and Christmas in the Park executive Debbie Degutis, who is the board secretary. Publisher and Music in the Park producer Dan Pulcrano is the current president.
Also on the board are: Signia by Hilton general manager Mark Ive; outgoing San Jose Downtown Association president Alan “Gumby” Marques; Fountain Blues Festival board member and marketing executive Dan Orloff; photographer and San Jose Downtown Association co-founder Raymond Rodriguez Jr.; performer and producer Ato Walker; the Gensler architecture firm’s Corinda Wong, and RMW Architecture’s Indu Chakravarthy.
“We have a responsibility to do this. I encourage everyone in San Jose to do the same thing, to step forward,” Rodriguez, who has spent decades downtown, said. “It’s not that our government is unable to do this. We need to work together. The community, the elected officials and the businesses.”
The all-volunteer organization, in coordination with the city, neighboring businesses and event producers, told the commission it intends “to encourage public use of Plaza de Cesar Chavez and enhance the experience for park visitors through restoration and stewardship, building and maintaining visitor amenities, commemorating history and creating new experiences for the entire community.”
“As discussions about master planning and improving the plaza—as well as the importance of events to downtown’s post-pandemic recovery—the conservancy seeks to advance ideas and projects to enable Plaza de Cesar Chavez achieve its potential while advocating for the interests of park users,” according to the December 6 presentation.
The organization foresees “transparent, accountable, effective oversight,” by a “board that reflects the community.” It will “hold open public meetings and respond to records requests.”
Although the early ideas were presented as initial concepts while the board undertakes a more formal visioning and planning process, the identified civic objectives include providing “a park for the people,” creating “a regional destination by improving attractions and amenities,” daily programming, economic development and promoting “a perception of safety through activation, aesthetic improvements, signage and lighting.”
The conservancy said it will encourage public use of the plaza and “strive to enhance the experience of Plaza visitors… including, but not limited to capital improvement planning, fundraising, education and programming support.”
In a statement, Marquez said: “I joined the Plaza Conservancy as a small business owner and interested Downtown San Jose Citizen because I saw the promise and potential of a Conservancy in the spirit of other such as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Lincoln Park in Chicago, Central Park in New York and the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga (which was started by the same leadership.)”
“The inaugural board is fantastic was well, representing a diverse group of people of all interests in backgrounds who are dedicated to preserving and improving public spaces for all.”
“Plaza de Cesar Chavez is Northern California’s longest continuously enjoyed public space, established more than 50 years before the birth of the state of California.,” the conservancy said in its presentation. “It gave rise to San Jose’s original city hall and California’s first legislature. Plaza de Cesar Chavez will be a permanent green space, gathering spot and historical legacy in the heart of a vibrant, modern city.”
Dan Pulcrano, CEO of the Weeklys media group based in San Jose, is publisher of San Jose Inside.