Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 2020 Downtown Dimension Highlights

The latest addition of Downtown Dimension is now live. Below is a summary of the content this month.

The APRIL 2020 Downtown Dimension is now available.

In this edition:
  • Downtown businesses cope with a pandemic as losses mount during shelter in place. This month's lead story covers the thoughts and emotions of business owners, and how businesses plan to continue serving their customers and keep their commitment to employees.
  • Other stories include:
    • Groundwerx during shelter-in-place
    • SJDA's plan of action
    • San Jose State University's course of events
    • San Jose City Council action
  • Downtown news not pertaining to COVID-19:
    • ADA compliance grant available
    • Bus stops removed from San Fernando Street
    • Two property acquisitions 
    • Two new businesses
Other ways to stay connected to Downtown:

The Downtowner Online continues to be sent out on Wednesdays.  This weekly email features downtown businesses including virtual events and ways to support downtown. Subscribe

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

3.8 million SQFT office campus proposed in North San Jose

Bay West Development has proposed a 3.8 million SQFT office project at the former Fry's Electronics headquarters in San Jose (550 E. Brokaw Road). This would be one of the largest office projects of any kind in Silicon Valley, second only to what Google is proposing in Downtown San Jose.

The configuration would be seven large buildings and two parking structures, enough for 10,000 employees. The buildings would cap out at about eight stories or 120 feet. Unfortunately it does not appear like there is any attempt to make this a mixed use project combining residential and retail, but there is plenty of that in the area already.

Source: SVBJ

Monday, April 27, 2020

San Jose Goes Virtual

Searchlight San Jose has a great post about how San Jose businesses are now providing virtual experiences. Great America has virtual rides, Happy Hollow is providing photos and Zoom backgrounds, History San Jose is posting historical artifacts (including a terrifying Chuck E. Cheese animatronic). Museums like the SJMA, The Tech, and the Winchester Mystery House are doing virtual tours.

When it comes to shopping, SJMade has put together a very cool online storefront designed like a 16-bit video game. All of the items sold here are made by San Jose craftsmen.

Head over to Searchlight San Jose to see the full list of virtual experiences to keep you entertained for the next for weeks.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"Human" by Sunny State

As the week heads to a close, let's wrap with one of the creative ways San Jose artists are coping with social distancing. The band Sunny State recorded a special version of their song "Human" in response to the COVID-19 crisis using videoconferencing software. It's a cool song with relevant lyrics, recorded locally.

For more info and to hear more of their music, head over here. You can watch the special performance of "Human" below.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Two massive 20-story towers proposed Downtown

KT Urban has submitted plans for Woz Way Offices, another epic office project in Downtown San Jose. It consists of a whopping 1.8 million SQFT split between two towers at 280 Woz Way. One of them is a giant wall similar to Adobe's 4th tower and looks like multiple high-rises combined together.

The project architect and designer stated that the only place in Silicon Valley where a tech company can physically scale their business and have access to transit is San Jose. Hopefully the momentum can survive the current crisis as it appears that developers are finally coming around to seeing Downtown's potential.

The project would also feature an impressive 30,000 SQFT of outdoor terraces across four floors, and 6,000 SQFT of retail (a bit light for a project this size). Parking will consist of four-levels both above and below ground, enough to handle 1,215 cars.

If all goes well, the project could break ground as early as 2021.

Source: SVBJ

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Supporting the Downtown SJ restaurants that are still open

There are still many great Downtown restaurants (and even some bars) that are still serving customers with curbside pick-ups, to-go orders, and partnerships with delivery services like Doordash and Uber Eats. The San Jose Downtown Association has put together a handy list of the places that are still open for business. By patronizing local restaurants in these tough times, we can help ensure they will still be around later this year. Here are a few of my favorites on the list:

  • Back-A-Yard - hands down one of my favorite restaurants. They are even featured in the Michelin Guide as one of San Jose's 8 Michelin Recommended restaurants. Try the oxtail, plantains, and corn festivals
  • Good Karma - vegan cafe with Good Karma and GREAT beers. This was San Jose's first real craft beer hangount. Even if you're not a vegan you'll find quality food with rare libations to wash them down with.
  • Pizza Flora - same owner as Good Karma--I'm a total carnivore and was blown away at how good these pizzas were. Seriously I would have never guessed these were vegan, and again the beer selection here is phenomenal. 
  • Henry's Would Famous Hi Life - I don't think this needs any elaboration, one of our staple BBQ joints.
  • Terke's Germania - another Downtown staple serving up quality German eats and beers by the liter.
  • Hapa Musubi - one of our most popular new additions to the food scene. I have visited this place three times and they were completely sold out of everything twice. Great musubi's that go well beyond the classic SPAM musubi (although they have that too).
  • Ludwig's German Table - Downtown's newer German spot. Love the Schnitzel and Pretzels here. Looking forward to sitting in their outdoor patio again one day.
  • Silicon Valley Capital Club - this is a very notable restaurant on the list as it's a private club that you normally have to be a member of to dine in. They have curbside pickup and to-go orders for both members and non-members while restaurants are locked down.
  • Enoteca La Storia - one of my favorite Italian spots. Great pastas and pizzas. They are a bit light on proteins but are the ultimate spot to get your fix of delicious carbs.
  • HoM Korean Kitchen - inexpensive yet super delicious Korean eats, and it's open late.
  • Haberdasher SJ - not only can you get cocktails to go from my favorite bar Downtown, but they also have chicken pot pies, snacks, and the best cookies I've ever had... Honey jack bacon sugar cookies. I ended up going through the entire bag of like 16 cookies in one day.
  • Cafe Stritch - American comfort food classics. You'll have to supply the Jazz music yourself at home though.
  • 71 Saint Peter - high-end Mediterranean grill. Great date night option.
  • Miniboss - a great bar, restaurants, and arcade. You can get cocktails and Korean fusion food to go, but will have to provide your own video games these days.
  • Original Gravity - aame owners as Miniboss. San Jose's first purpose-built craft beer spot with a great selection of sausages and fries accompanies by homemade sauces.
There are also some great cafes on the list like Academic Coffee, Paper Moon, and Voltaire Coffee House.

To see the list of the 70+ Downtown San Jose restaurants that are still serving up meals to go, head over here.

Monday, April 20, 2020

SoFA Music Festival: Shelter in Place Edition

One of San Jose's top music festivals is going on with the show this weekend. The special "SIP" edition of the SoFA Music Festival will feature 7 hours of live music across 15 different channels with over 100 bands. Instead of dancing in Downtown San Jose, you'll be dancing in your living room. At least the beer and wine will be slightly less expensive than your typical festival ;).

The SoFA Music Festival organizers aren't holding anything back. There will somehow be virtual vendors, merch tables, and a live painting stream to bring the artsy vibe of SoFA into your home. Music will range from jazz, alternative, hip hop, pop, folk, metal, punk, ska, reggae, funk, soul, blues, and mash up DJs. Check out the full set list over here. It's also a true community event built by the community (and it's free). As just about every other live music event in San Jose has been cancelled this year, let's give them our full support!

The party starts on Sunday, April 26th at 2pm and continues until 9pm. Participate over at

Instagram: @sofastreetfair #sofastreetfair 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Silicon Valley rush hour in 2020

There is a new drone video floating around showing what rush hour traffic looked like in March. I can only describe it with one word... chilling.

I never thought I'd see the day where I actually miss traffic. It's a very odd time, not at all what I pictured 2020 to be like. Hopefully this will be over soon and we'll have some normalcy again this year.

Source: Gillynova from the San Jose Debelopment Forum

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

2020 Silicon Valley Index

The Joint Venture Silicon Valley Index has been providing insights on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for over 20 years. It provides an honest and holistic view of life in Silicon Valley, with the obvious exception that it was published before COVID-19. It's worth reading for a reminder of where we were at the start of 2020. We can use today's events as a chance to reflect on what we can do differently when we hopefully return to normalcy sometime later this year.

You can download the 2020 Silicon Valley Index over here.

Below are a few items that stood out for me:

  • We have had nine continuous years of expansion since the last recession, adding 821,000 jobs in the Bay Area.
  • Over that same time period, we only permitted 173,000 new homes and have 100,000 megacommuters [Josh: hopefully the option to work remotely continues for many post-COVID].
  • Labor productivity reached a record $241,000 per worker, a 53% increase from 2001.
  • Unemployment hit 2.1%, a 19-year low.
  • More people are leaving the region than coming in.
  • Home prices declined 6% in 2019, yet median home sale prices are still the highest in the country (over $1 million).
  • Income inequality hit a historic high with 13% of households holding 75% of the region's wealth.
  • Internet speeds are slow compared to SF, California, and the country as a whole [Josh: this is shocking for living in the middle of Silicon Valley].
  • Individual median income is $117,000 and 82% of the population is above 150% of the poverty level.
  • Silicon Valley's ethnic breakdown is 35% Asian, 33% White, 25% Hispanic/Latino, 5% Multiple/Other, and 2% Black/African American.
  • 24% of Silicon Valley residents have Graduate or Professional Degrees.
  • 51% of families speak a language other than English at home (vs. 41% for SF, 45% for California, and 22% for the US).
  • The Bay Area has by far the largest number of tech jobs and greatest % of people employed in tech out of any region in the US.
  • 9% of Silicon Valley Residents lack access to adequate food and nutrition
  • San Jose generates more patents than any other city in California (11% of all CA patents in fact).
  • In 2019, traffic delays cost as much as $3.4 billion in lost productivity for Silicon Valley workers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Free private screening of "The Light Between Two Towers"

An excellent documentary that juxtaposes the San Jose Electric Light Tower with the Eiffel Tower will be available for free, starting immediately. "The Light Between Two Towers" is a great watch, especially if you live in the San Jose area and know some of our local history (and if you don't, this is a great place to start). You can start watching over here.

Below is the full announcement by the creator of the documentary, Thomas Wohlmut.

In this terribly disruptive time of the Coronavirus outbreak we are required to isolate ourselves. Each and every one of us who are shut-in feel alone and disconnected. We are living in a type of darkness.

Sometime in the future we will emerge from the darkness into an enlightened world. The documentary "The Light Between Two Towers" drives home a powerful inspirational message of enlightenment and what people can do to emerge from darkness. The film describes how people from all walks of life were motivated to achieve and did achieve a better life.

The story of the building of the San Jose Electric Light Tower by immigrants and its relationship to the Eiffel Tower is a story worth remembering in this time. It's a story that reminds us of how the people of Silicon Valley are innovative leaders and trend setters.

Now may be the time for us to begin to imagine and prepare for a future that brings us back into the light.

As a special gift during this challenging time, we are offering a free private screening of “The Light Between Two Towers”. Share the above link with your family and friends - our gift to you. We hope it will give you a lift and be an inspiration to what we can achieve together and individually when we set our hearts and minds to it.

With best wishes ...

Thomas Wohlmut

You can watch the entire film for free over here.

Monday, April 13, 2020

San Jose needs to rethink tourism strategy

Let's be honest: if someone flies into the Bay Area from out of the country for leisure purposes, they're probably not dying to check out San Jose. They're much more likely to spend their time in San Francisco, or maybe spend the weekend up in Napa. Next stop is probably LA. Each of these areas has a little different to offer, but one thing they all share is that there is an established history that tourists find fascinating. San Jose, on the other hand, makes most of its tourism money from hosting large-scale events, not organic local attractions.

San Jose has a fair amount of history, but very little tourist attention. In fact, I'd wager that the average San Jose doesn't even find local history interesting. They're probably familiar with the Winchester Mystery House, and some may even mention the tower on Mt. Umunhum. Would they take a visiting friend to either of these places? They'd probably take the friend to SF.

Meanwhile, organizations like PAC*SJ have fought to preserve potential historical landmarks around the city. Why aren't we seeing any changes to how these buildings fit into people's mindshare, local or otherwise? I think it's because it's the wrong approach, at least in isolation.

Preservation alone will not promote city history. People need a story

If you've heard locals complain about how boring San Jose is, or how there's a lack of culture, chances are they're referring to a way of life and customs. The same locals would look at some of the historical buildings around St. James Park, for example, and their opinion would remain unchanged. That's because the existence of the landmark can only go so far; there needs to be stories that function as a vehicle into people's minds and hearts before there is any semblance of meaning. 

This is why, although I strongly value history myself (and it's one of my most fulfilling parts of international travel), I find the city's general approach a bit lacking. I'm not specifically calling out any department at the city, just the holistic approach I observe as a local. There are plenty old buildings around, but unless there is meaning behind them, I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that they need to be preserved in place. 

History Park - untapped potential

One thing the city has done right is move historical buildings into History Park. These buildings form a small town within the park, and at first sight is fairly interesting to look at. There's a trolley that runs through it, which is pretty cool.

History Park At Kelley Park (Peter Bennett)
The problem is that most folks only visit the park when there's another event hosted there--food festivals, conventions, and galleries. There is very little standalone appeal, but it looks like it's basically San Jose Disneyland. I think this park needs to be leveraged as the the place to go to experience history in the south bay. Every school should be organizing field trips here, if not already. It should be a good way to spend a day with the family. 

Replica light tower at History Park (
Here are some ideas:
  • Don't keep the park free. Charge an entrance fee if that's what it'll take to fund a better experience.
  • Group buildings either by neighborhood or by era, complete with roads and lamp posts to match. This makes the town feel more cohesive rather than a random assortment of buildings.
  • Each interior is treated as a stationary gallery, complete with historical furnishing (for viewing purposes only). This is already happening to an extent, but I think you need a tour to experience them. I might be wrong.
  • There should be some permanent references to historically significant moments related to San Jose. For example, there should at least be mention of Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Olympic moment.
  • Ideally, some national brands and franchises that started locally could lend a hand. I'd love to see how Chuck E Cheeses started, or what inspired Eggo waffles.
  • There should be a major festival every year on April 08 (4.08) complete with performances near the electric tower.
I'd actually prefer to leave Silicon Valley history out of History Park, since that story is still evolving and may be a better fit elsewhere. That's a post for another time.

Iconic neon business signs: better together

I love neon signs. When done right, they are so easily recognizable from a distance. They add color to our streets. Over time, they creation an emotional connection with locals who see the businesses (or at least the designs) as a part of daily life. Unfortunately we're past the glory days of neon signs, but San Jose has a cluster of these from past decades. A lot of the time, the business no longer exists. Nonetheless, there needs to be some purpose designed for these signs after they are properly restored.

San Jose's iconic Dancing Pig sign restored to neon glory
Dancing Pig sign (Mercury News)

In one example, the community pitched in to save and restore the Dancing Pig sign on Montgomery Street. It was a celebratory moment when the campaign succeeded, but what happens next? What's the purpose of preserving the sign in-place if the business no longer exists, and the entire surrounding area is prime for redevelopment? One approach is to use it as a way to protest redevelopment. A much better approach, in my opinion, is to use the sign to bring joy to many more people via a new city-maintained public gallery of neon signs.

Similar to how History Park has accumulated historical buildings, I think there's an opportunity to create a memorable visual experience if San Jose can bring signs like the Dancing Pig, Western Appliance, Orchard Supply Hardware, into a central location where can all be maintained and enjoyed together. Locals can visit the signs to reminisce or for a recognizable local photo opportunity. Tourists can get a glimpse at what downtown/midtown used to feel like. 

Where might we put these? 
  • Again, History Park is a candidate as a go-to spot for revisiting the past of our city. 
  • Another option is to use them to bring character and design to a public gathering space, such as a vibrant alleyway or a plaza. 
  • Even an existing popular destination like the San Pedro Square garage could use them to boost the existent history elements of the venue. In fact the block still has a few active neon signs, so it might be a perfect it.
  • The signs can be distributed to give blander sections of downtown a bit more personality. For example, each downtown parking garage can be adorned with one of the signs. Imagine parking in the "Dancing Pigs parking garage" instead of the 3rd St. parking garage".
  • An upcoming development can incorporate the signs in their ceiling, similar to how The Pierce adopted the Voxel Cloud.

Create new local tourism destinations for the modern age

History is not the only way to attract local and broader tourism. There's a lot that San Jose can do in order to create new destinations. That's not exactly a revolutionary idea, so let's start with what I think is working.

What's working


Over the last five years or so, the city has really stepped up to encourage public facing art. Participation in Pow Wow has added a lot of color throughout the city. Meanwhile, collaborations with local art collectives such as Local Color has turned some downtown eyesores into sources of joy and inspiration. From experience I see plenty of locals lauding the increase in local murals, so this is a great, relatively recent movement that has shown great success.

Guest urban installations

Two very prominent projects made their way to downtown San Jose in the past few years, and they both demonstrated how hungry local crowds were for unifying projects that enhanced place making efforts.

2016 8-4 Musical Swings Opening-4-low-res.jpg
The Swings in San Jose (

The first example is from 2016. The Swings was an interactive art piece by a Canadian art studio that consisted of swings that were each assigned an instrument. As people swung, their swings' "instruments" played, creating a full musical experience as more folks joined in. The gallery was so popular that the month-long installation ended up being extended. Locals also observed that it turned Plaza de Cesar Chavez into a truly family-oriented space. Every kid wanted to be a part of it, and parents could enjoy the results of the piece as their kids played.

Sonic Runway Unveiling Draws Big Crowds to San Jose City Hall ...
Sonic Runway in front of City Hall (San Jose Inside)

Another popular art piece was brought over from Burning Man - the Sonic Runway. The project consisted of a tunnel built out of LED rings that created different patterns depending on the music fed into it. It was a major hit, as folks from all ages, backgrounds, music preferences all came out to experience it. A few events were coordinated adjacent to it, temporarily turning City Hall into the best gathering spot over the span of a couple of months.

Even better, it enabled the community to create their own artwork. One that pops in mind is the corgi photo that reappears now and then on Reddit and Twitter. That's the kind of inspiration that the city needs to focus on, as that's what turns something from just artwork in itself into a phenomenon that locals can feel like they own, even if the project was imported. 

Can you imagine if the project was created locally and it inspired locals? That's how you create the culture that folks so desperately yearn.

What we need

Social media friendly museums

This part is going to be more controversial. I am a fan of our existing downtown museums, from the San Jose Museum of Art to the Tech Museum (which will hopefully be expanded in the near future). We also have a list of local art galleries that provide great experiences, especially during arts-focused events such as South First Fridays. We don't need to change these at all; they tend to be though provoking, quality experiences.

What I'm referring to specifically is the type of museum that can double as a casual date or family outing. Places like Color Factory or Happy Place are not cheap, but they are tightly controlled environments that provide a very obvious escape from the "real world". Most would take this to mean a photo opportunity for Instagram, but it's also something that anyone can really go and enjoy if they need a change in scenery.

Misty bubbles gallery (New Spring)

Today, anyone looking for this category of casual entertainment would need to go to San Francisco, which is another example of leaked local tourism. It's not exactly the city's decision to open these locations, but it should take a hard look at why San Jose is not considered a desirable landing spot for them. 

An iconic San Jose public art piece

This one is sort of in progress, as Urban Confluence has launched an international design competition for a landmark to be located on Arena Green. Since we have nothing material to go on, however, it's important to consider what we'd like to see.

Iconic public art work does not necessarily need to fulfill a specific purpose. In this case, the uniqueness in itself is supposed to be the story. In other words, even with minimal context, it should still be something that folks can appreciate. 
  • Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) in Chicago: result of a design competition
  • Urban Light in Los Angeles: started as a personal project, eventually purchased by Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Charging Bull in New York: Another personal artwork that ended up becoming a symbol of Wall Street

We'll need to see what the design competition yields. Ideally it can draw inspiration from its surroundings or the city in general; it won't hurt to add layers to the project.

Focus on locals first, and be forward-thinking

Becoming a destination will take time. One mistake I'd hate to see the city make is to focus too much on international and out-of-state travelers, rather than spend time analyzing leakage of local tourism. How can San Jose convince south bay residents and other Bay Area locals to visit San Jose over the weekend with purpose? 

Until the city can figure out how to shed the "San Jose is boring" label by locals, there is going to be very little hope for broader appeal. Once this local leakage has been addressed, and locals know where to take visitors on any random weekend, then the tourism appeal will slowly grow from there. 

We don't have the picturesque historical structures other cities have which  provide natural tourist appeal. That doesn't mean tourism appeal is doomed, but we can build up from here. San Jose will need to think about where it wants to be in ten years or twenty years. 

After all, everything historical needs a starting point, and what's been built in the past half century has not worked. It's time to rethink how to build for the future.

-Lawrence Lui

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Despite Covid19, new 20-story office tower proposed Downtown

I honestly didn't think we would get any new tower proposals for quite some time. I'm happy to hear developers aren't entirely scared away at this point.

J.P. DiNapoli would like to build a 20-story tower at 95 S. Almaden--also know as the parking lot next to the ugly windowless AT&T building. The tower would have retail and amenities on the ground floor, eight floors of parking (four above ground and four below) and 15 stories of offices above the parking.

This is close to two other major projects, Adobe Tower 4 and Jay Paul's CityView Plaza redevelopment. It's also a killer location with easy access to transit, housing, and attractions Downtown.

Smart developers will build ASAP while costs are low.

Source: SVBJ

Monday, April 6, 2020

BART Phase 2 Updates

A video was released a few weeks ago that provides an excellent visualization of how BART Phase 2 will extend from San Jose's Berryessa Station to Little Portugal, Downtown San Jose, Diridon, and finally Santa Clara. I was surprised at how detailed the 3D renders were throughout the entire video.

I was also shocked to see how deep the stations actually were in San Jose. The Downtown and Diridon stations will both have high speed elevators to help get passengers in and out of the stations as quickly as possible.

Source: aphelion2100 from the San Jose Development Forum