Levitt Pavilion: The Process of Remaking of St. James Park with Music

The Levitt Pavilion received support from the San Jose City Council this week, after Sam Liccardo gathered enough interest from neighbors and urbanists to get approval for an “Exploratory Committee.” Will it be “the answer” or “part of the answer” to what ails St. James Park? We shall see.

St. James Park has been here for more than a hundred years. We don’t have ready access to its early years, at least not a conceptual idea of what importance or significance it had, but we do know—simply by looking at it—that it must have been majestic.

Paths that intertwine and surround the spacious lawns, the myriad of trees, and the majestic fountain that now lies dormant—all of these indicate a truly remarkable space that must have encouraged, and perhaps demanded, that people walk to and through St. James Park. Now it remains dormant, as it has for a few decades, a vast neglected expanse in the middle of a revived and bustling city center.

City leaders have only occasionally opined about this park, offering little vision or direction. There has also been little investment, because San Jose grew up and around and beyond the park, making it somewhat superfluous, even to the “new” downtown of the 1980s. Now, as a new generation emerges with more desire to be part of a vibrant urban center than to live in sprawl, times are changing.

Values are shifting toward creating a walkable urban core. Yes, even in San Jose, the idea of a walkable urban center—with restaurants, housing, entertainment, parks and playgrounds, knitted together by a network of trails and convenient transit options—is taking root. And a few people are paying attention.

The timing of the Levitt Pavilion project could not be better, as it answers many of the most basic needs to transform a neglected park into a very unique and magnetic urban space. The concept is simple: Build a new entertainment venue and community stage, which is then professionally designed and operated and must produce 50 free concerts annually. (Editor’s note: This is a far more ambitious schedule than the now-defunct free Music in the Park series.)

The Levitt Foundation first requires that a nonprofit entity be formed to oversee the project, which raises the funds, hires staff, determines the overall policies, etc. Next, the pavilion is built. The “Exploratory Committee” will have to learn how other pavilions (LA, Pasadena, Arlington, TX, Memphis, etc.) were formed, funded and how they operate.

The success of the San Jose Levitt Pavilion, I believe, will lie in the ability of this group to create a community-led planning process, as opposed to just turning the project over to city officials. The kind of buy-in needed to successfully transform St. James Park requires participation at basic level of planning, and to be effective it has to come from residents, businesses and other neighbors of St. James Park.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected]  or 408.893.PARK


  1. <i>Now, as a new generation emerges with more desire to be part of a vibrant urban center than to live in sprawl, times are changing.<i>

    This is nonsense.  The problem with San Jose is that it has been sucking money out of it’s suburban areas to try to prop up its downtown.  When given a choice, people in most parts of San Jose would gladly pay to live in any of the adjacent municipalities.  In the case of Cambrian 36, they’re willing to pay $325 a year just so they don’t have to be in San Jose.


    • Hopefully, the others who live in Suburban San Jose will want to pay as well.  The lack of density of all that area makes it near impossible to service with the funds San Jose has, downtown or not.  Density is the answer as it requires much less to maintain a dense city rather than a suburban one.

  2. Wow, another waste of MONEY.  Sam L tries to keep this alive but history tells us this will not work.  I spend a third of my career working this dump trying to clean up the drug deals, homeless issues, gang problems.  You name it still spikes even more whit light rail dropping off outside drug dealers. 

    This will not work just like when it became the other site for music in the park did not.  Bottom line no one feels safe coming to downtown after dark, and especially what most of this council has did to the SJPD.

  3. Hey glad to hear we have solved the “Safety ” issue here in San Jose. The mass exodus of Police Officers will come to a screeching halt , now that we have a concert venue. Its Pathetic! Lickardo complains that San Jose has no money for public safety , but we got money for a park . That will be nothing more than a haven for the homeless. without Public safety no park in san jose is a safe place

  4. A couple observations:

    1. I have heard for 30 years now that if we build enough things downtown, that great things will happen. It has not worked yet. It has, however, siphoned billions of dollars worth of city services from other neighborhoods in the city that have been neglected. When the money runs out, this will of course be blamed on the greedy police officers.

    2. If getting more people downtown to increase business for merchants is a good idea, why in God’s name does the city have Cirque Du Soleil set up for couple months in the employee parking lot of the San Jose Police Department, about a mile north of downtown? This is well out of walking distance of any downtown restaurant. For those that don’t know, for the past 10 years or so, police department employees have to give up their parking lot for Cirque Du Soleil for a couple months this time of year, and police employees are given a dirt parking lot to use. If I were a downtown merchant, I would be asking Sam Liccardo why he can’t arrange for venue downtown to be used. It also sends a warm message to police officers of how much they are appreciated, when they are displaced to a dirt parking lot.

    • Good point on putting Cirque downtown, but I can’t think of a lot where it could operate.  It would make more sense.  That’s not good about your having to park in the dirt lot. I didnt know that was the case.  But do appreciate all the officers who work in San Jose.

      I do believe that San Jose isn’t dense enough and that will continue to contribute to a disproportion in funds vs. services because of the lack of density.

  5. The San Jose Arena/Sap Center PARKING LOT could easily accommodate the Cirque tests and all the parking, and centralize the event downtown. But no, it’s not Reeds idea and the revenue share isn’t enough for Mchenry and crew.

      • That would be a GREAT location. Walking distance to the motels and hotels, and all the restaurants. Also could easily be accessed by public transportation, unlike the police department parking lot/circus. Why aren’t the merchants up in arms at Liccardo???

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