McEnery’s Market

Every serious baseball fan who has traveled a bit has seen the benefit that can come from economic development projects like the San Jose Public Market. During the 1980s and ‘90s, many American cities invested public money to build baseball stadiums in the hope that they would stimulate economic activity. There are now vibrant neighborhoods surrounding ballparks from Washington D.C. to Denver. Often controversial when proposed, these neighborhoods now stand as testament to the wisdom of public-private partnerships in pursuit of urban development. The only downside seems to be the preponderance of newspaper headlines saying (you guessed it): “If You Build It, They Will Come.”

This brand of redevelopment was spurred in part by the publication of a book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by the visionary urban planner Jane Jacobs.  Written at a time when many cities were being abandoned, the book proposed investment in urban renewal as a way to spur economic health and community well-being.

When he was mayor of San Jose, Tom McEnery helped put many of Jacobs’ theories in practice locally. Here on SJI, we’ve become familiar with his relentless boosterism of Downtown—it’s a song he’s been singing for decades. Back when he was in office, there were doubters who believed McEnery was being naïve—Downtown San Jose was decrepit in those days. Not everything the mayor tried worked; but anyone who was Downtown this past weekend (and there were a million of you) witnessed the fruits of his endeavor.

Other McEnery-haters in those days accused the mayor of simply trying to enrich himself and his family. And it’s likely that the restaurants in McEnery properties around San Pedro Square did a brisk business this past weekend. But it requires a pretty bleak brand of cynicism to believe that alone was the impetus for McEnery’s efforts when he was mayor. And it’s similarly naïve to believe that this new plan is designed purely to line his pockets.

Of course the Public Market will be a boon to McEnery and his partners. By investing $5 million to build a pedestrian mall, expand a parking garage, and help with the construction costs of several new structures near San Pedro Square, the City is in effect helping the private enterprise that McEnery and his partners have launched. But these investments will likely also benefit other Downtown businesses and the city as a whole. That’s how these public-private partnerships work. And as we have seen, they work.

We are hearing, in the weeks since the project was announced, from the doubters who can’t see a Public Market succeeding in San Jose. Others simply can’t get past the idea of tax dollars benefiting private businesses. Ten years ago, similar sentiments won the day in San Francisco, when the Giants ownership group was defeated in its efforts to get municipal assistance to build a ballpark. Some said the ballpark would be a boondoggle. They were badly wrong, as anyone can now see. And while the Giants’ Peter McGowan was able to go it alone and prove them wrong, it’s unlikely that this Public Market can go forward without participation from the city. We are living in different times, and everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Barack Obama recognizes that government investment is a good thing.

I’m well aware that putting these thoughts under my byline opens me to criticism because Tom and I are colleagues. But he’s being pilloried by the haters, and I think they’re wrong. Today, as the City Council considers the San Jose Public Market plan, other friends of Tom’s face a similar choice. I have to hope they’ll be able to judge the project on its merits, and not be intimidated by his political foes.


  1. High rise condos, outdoor markets, and trendy restaurants/shops are nice.  And as a downtown resident I would enjoy an upgraded San Pedro Square.

    But good ideas or not, isn’t it just wrong to force our citizens to pay for these things?

    Especially with such blatant conflicts of interest?

  2. Eric,

    Have your read Jane Jacobs book? Now I support the public market proposal but I expect that Jacobs would have hated it. She was all mixed use intergrated into a small blocks development. Bottom-up, not top down. She hated large projects for the most part. She hated what passed for urban renewal and would have disappoved of most of what was done in downtown San Jose.

    Now I largely disagree with her in the grand scale although I acknowledge that she made some good points about the micro-level. She did in “Death and Life” tend to go on-and-on making obvious points.

    If you really think Jacobs would approve of a particular development scheme, you should cite specific quotes or positions not just use her name to defend projects she would likely be critical of. Also, you should try reading her book (tedious as it can be), it is still in print and available most places where books are sold.

  3. 2 WGD: I’ll have to get back to you on whether J. Jacobs would support this plan—although I suspect she would. I was trying to make a point about public-private partnerships as a vehicle for urban redevelopment, something she no doubt supported.

    As for her position on ballparks, I have to site a secondary source: Baseball and the American City, a research paper by Brian Reich. Even there, you are correct that she would not support every such proposal. I seem to recall that she was opposed the building of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine—a scheme that destroyed a viable neighborhood.

  4. Eric,

    I must be terribly ignorant about the virtues of public/private partnerships and funding via our tax dollars.  It seems that every such venture must be located in the downtown area.

    Someone please enlighten me here – is there no other area of the city worthy of such a venture?!  Please don’t tell me that developers will only invest in downtown… that would be a boldfaced lie.

  5. Hi Eric: Like BART, like baseball stadiums, the cost/benefit analysis of these types of projects is in the specific amount of taxpayer dollars allocated, and the expected return. From your perspective, what would be a reasonable taxpayer contribution to the public market, and why? What would be too much, or too little? How would we know (in a quantifiable way,  not viscerally)  if our money was well-spent?

  6. Greg Howe asks, “Is there no other area of the city worthy of such a venture?!” That is the million dollar question. Excuse the pun. I have often wondered that myself. So Eric, what is the answer?

  7. I’ve got to agree with Greg Howe in #4. I don’t doubt Mr. McEnery’s genuine commitment to the City of San Jose. And it is true that you can do well by doing good. However, many of us in Undowntownland sometimes transfer our frustrations onto him as we see him as symbolic of City Hall’s habit of spending all the resources on downtown while neglecting the 95% of the rest of the city.

  8. I would be more willing to support this proposal if Mr. McEnery hadn’t bought the Taste Ultra Lounge property and then evicted his tenants.  Why would I want to support a landlord that doesn’t appreciate his tenants and will evict them thus increasing the blight in the neighborhood.

  9. Eric, you’re either terribly uninformed about Jane Jacobs, and about ballpark economics, or you’re simply making it all up.
    You haven’t cited (please note the correct spelling) anything, you’ve simply named two people who you claim would agree with your viewpoint.
    And please tell us why this privately-owned project is being labeled a public market?  Is it because it would receive a public subsidy?
    Public markets are publicly owned and operated—yours wouldn’t be.

  10. #5 RGD,
    Visit HP Pavilion for a Sharks game, concert, or Disney performance, and you’ll soon realize it’s not all about “cost/benefit analysis’s” or figuring out mathematically if “our money” is well spent.  Same will be said for the San Pedro Public Market.

    #7 JG,
    “neglecting the 95% of the rest of the city”?  Huhh?  SNI pal! 

    By the way Eric Johnson, nice post.  Would be nice if we could have a ballpark downtown to compliment The Tank and future SP Public Market; you know, like other major American cities.

  11. I’m disgusted with the tactics used by the Developers advocating for the “Public Market.”  I received a post card this weekend with a survey on it asking if I would be in support of a public market.  No mention of public funding going to benefit this project and make the rich, richer!  In this economic situation, the City of San Jose needs to invest in its critical infrastructure like streets and community centers, not a upscale market.

  12. I’m happy to say that you can add A’s baseball stadium to the list.  You’re the first to hear it!  A’s is definitely coming to downtown San Jose.  Come and enjoy the A’s in the spring of 20013!

  13. Eric, how exactly is Tom McEnery’s proposal like a baseball stadium? I really don’t see the resemblance at all.

    If it’s sports venues that make urban renewal, it looks as though the real action is going to be up by Costco where buildings are being torn down at a frantic rate, I presume to build that new soccer stadium everyone was so excited about a while ago.

    But how about Santana Row? Has that inspired urban renewal in the surrounding area? For one thing, the Valero station just down San Carlos is expanding their mini-mart.

    Here’s another redevelopment opportunity downtown:

    “Blaming a tough economy, Whole Foods executives sent an ominous letter to all employees in its Pacific Northwest stores last month that warns of potential layoffs, announces a hiring freeze, and says new stores are on hold…

    In fact, the Texas-based chain plans to only build smaller stores from now on.

    “We are looking at sites that are under 40,000 square feet as a format for our stores as we go forward,” says Vicki Foley, a Whole Foods regional spokeswoman. “That is not just our region—that’s for the whole county.” “

    I’m guessing that if Whole Foods doesn’t want the site at Stockton and the Alameda, it will soon get turned into a parking lot like the old Westinghouse building across the street and the sausage factory at San Fernando and Montgomery. Because nothing says “public space” like a sea of asphalt.

  14. I’d love to believe you F.U.B. #14, but I can’t at this time.  Care to present some facts or links to said “news?”  A’s ballpark in downtown San Jose…would be nice!

  15. The economic depression is a wonderful thing for San Jose just like the last depression.  Downtown San Jose thrives during this kind of downturn.  Due to economic crash, it doesn’t pencil out anymore in Fremont.  Fremont even making it difficult for the stadium to because all the traffic, and landowners their don’t want to compromise.  The baseball commisioner, Bud Sielig, concedes and sent a letter to Wolf “find another alternative, and that’s San Jose.  There’s 95% certainty that’s going to happen.  “Come on down A’s!” Come to papa!

  16. #14,
    I’m looking forward to it, but 18,005 years is a long time to wait. I wonder if Jamie Moyer will still be pitching.

  17. C’mon Eric, give us some numbers. I like H-P Pavilion, but if it cost me $500/year in taxpayer subsidies I’d be outraged. You’re asking us to spend money but won’t give us any cost/benefit guidelines other than “it’ll be nice.” That’s not serious, businesslike, nor respectful. At least give us an upper range as to what would be too much in your opinion. Still waiting, RGD.

  18. This isn’t a new idea. Guadalupe River Park was supposed to be twice as large but the powers that be chose a tennis court over a public market area that would celebrate the Valley’s agrarian past with events and Seattle style farmers marketing. I’d love a large public market area. Too bad we got a truncated Guadalupe River Park and Gardens. I suspect the same will happen with this new developer lead scheme. What they promise and what we get are always different.