Good, Bad and Ugly: SJ Downtown Association Reviews 2020

This year has been bad—that almost doesn’t even need to be said anymore—but there have also been successes in San Jose’s urban core, which is primed to regain momentum in the new year, according to Scott Knies, head of the San Jose Downtown Association.

Knies, and others from SJDA, celebrated some of those successes and lamented the challenges Friday during its annual Year in Review meeting, normally held at the Hammer Theater, but this year hosted via Zoom for the first time.

“We all long to return to our cherished events and traditions, I promise to never take another art opening for granted, and oh my, how much I miss live music,” Knies said. “What I’ll carry most from this bewildering year is the strength of our small business community. Their endurance against all odds, getting whipsawed by protocols, finding a way, moving outdoors, even opening new businesses boldly and with flair and quality. And the best Christmas present of all: a Covid vaccine is coming soon.”

The challenges of 2020 and for the coming year are obvious: tight budgets for cities, organizations like SJDA and private companies; many businesses have shuttered for good during the pandemic; homelessness in downtown is on the rise and keeping the urban center clean has only gotten more challenging.

But the 2020 highlights on Knies’ list included:

  • Multiple businesses, like Petiscos and Nirvana Soul, opened in downtown.
  • City officials launched the new San Jose Al Fresco program, allowing businesses to operate outdoors—and the initiative was so successful parts of it may stick around for the long haul.
  • Real estate developments, including improvements to the Bank of Italy building, the planned office tower at 200 Park Ave. and Adobe’s fourth office tower, pushed forward despite planning and construction challenges.
  • San Joseans raised more than $30,000 to help retailers and restaurants in downtown following protests around police brutality over the summer that left some businesses with broken windows and other damage.
  • Building height limits got taller around the city’s downtown and Diridon Station, which officials say will pave the way to make the area more of an economic driver for the city and allow development to rise around transit lines.

The Coveted Golden Nail

An Aerial view of the Modera residential development by Mill Creek Residential. (Image courtesy of SJDA)

The 2020 Golden Nail Award, an annual accolade that SJDA bestows to a person or project that has contributed “excellence and vibrancy to downtown’s built environment,” went to the Alley on San Pedro Square.

The S-shaped alley between San Pedro Street and Almaden Avenue is buffered by the new Modera Apartment building and its ground-floor retailers on one side. On the other side, San Jose mainstays, including Five Points and The Brit, have opened or expanded their patios to the new thoroughfare.

Mill Creek Residential, the developer behind the Modera San Pedro Square, and Bay Area-based architect Steinberg-Hart, which designed the project, accepted the award. Rob Steinberg, chairman of Steinberg-Hart, said he was “particularly pleased” with how the Alley on San Pedro Square turned out.

“The only thing missing is the people and that’s coming,” he said. “I know it is.”

Watch the SJDA Year in Review event in full below.

Janice Bitters is managing editor for Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @janicebitters.


  1. I for one call for the cancellation of the SOFA district! White gentrification personified! I cant believe SJI got caught sitting on this racial injustice!

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