Last week’s discussion of the Valley Fair/Westfield behemoth mall complex and its fleet of department stores is linked in one way to the more recent and dubious history of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Yes, they both have “fair” in their titles, but more precisely, they both offer lessons and opportunities to do a few things right in the development of key properties in our city.
In the Valley Fair and subsequent Santana Row proposals, the condition that none of their leases should prohibit the location of a store—a Crate and Barrel for example—in the downtown must be removed. It is testimony to the denseness of our planners and political leaders that this abomination was allowed to be recorded. It is in the best interests of the citizens of San Jose not to have such restrictions on trade and the creation of a stronger tax base in the core area.
It was only after a painful intervention that the stranglehold the Syufy Theaters had on movies downtown was broken, and residents can now frequent first-run movies at the Camera Theatres. This is only reasonable and provides more understanding of the prejudices that allowed downtown to die.
Likewise, the new developer of the fairgrounds, Cattellus, should be given clear directives on what will complement the city’s investments downtown and elsewhere and not threaten them. This became painfully apparent in the noxious battle between the desperate county officials, in their quest to hit the big time with a music hall, and the city of San Jose. The only dumber idea was the “wooden domed arena” that was once the “Lord of the Rings” icon of the fair’s board and a few supervisors, and quickly bankrupted that same fair board. History should not repeat itself first as farce and then as tragedy. Clear direction must be given by the supervisors who, after all, represent the people of San Jose as well as the rest of the county’s citizenry.
There are ways for the county and the city to prosper, but it will involve putting the animosities of the past behind us and looking to the future wellbeing of our city in incredibly difficult times. It can be done and the critical ingredient is common sense.