Ugly Hotel Coming to Downtown San Jose?

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.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Apparently beggers can be choosers. It’s a hotel, and one I would imagine would be at a great price. All the hockey fans who wanna visit San Jose will use it. The sooner its up, the sooner there are that many more jobs in San Jose. With the Mayor’s “Speed of Business” mentality, why would we want to delay this at all? It looks fine to me. Not every hotel needs to be the De Anza.

  2. Expect to see a Council-circulated memo any day now proposing to give the hotel chain $10 – $15 million in “incentives.”

    A desperate city is not a pretty thing to watch.

  3. Ban this shlots!  If this were 8 story building and or taller with a better design, we’d go for it.  This building plan is an insult to San Jose and its downtown, period!

  4. This sub-brand of Hilton concentrates on suburban locations, rather than city centers, to provide decent lodging at a lower price than their flagship hotels. I’ve looked at pictures of some Hampton Inns located near major cities and they seem to be styled appropriately to work with their immediate neighborhoods. The one on Tully in SJ, included.
    The rendering we’re looking at does not. I agree with every objection stated in this article and question that this location is even appropriate for a Hampton Inn. Perhaps the corporation has a different idea of what we want our downtown to be than we do.

  5. Build what fits the market.

    I checked the San Francisco Fairmont, the San Jose Fairmont and the Hampton Inn Tracy.

    The price of a room for Saturday, March 30:

    San Francisco Fairmont: #389

    San Jose Fairmont:  AAA rate $110

    Hampton Inn Tracy: AAA rate $84

    It doesn’t seem that Hampton Inns are all that out of place for downtown San Jose.  They’s probably have to be less than $84 to compete with the San Jose Fairmont though.

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