Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Unique office and housing tower could transform Downtown skyline

The word iconic gets thrown out a lot, but there is a proposal at 35 S. Second St. whose design would truly be iconic for the Downtown San Jose skyline. "Energy Hub" is a curvy office and residential tower that features multiple cutouts for trees and plants--not to mention a full living roof. Have a look at the second and third renders below to see how this concept looks in the context of other Downtown buildings. The change would be pretty dramatic.

The tower is actually two connected buildings that rise 21 floors. Retail and restaurants wrap around the ground floor, followed by residential space across 10 floors (194 units total), and topped with 314,000 SQFT of office space. There is also an atrium-like urban room on the ground floor accessible to the public. 

The roof is essentially a giant park with amenities for both residents and office workers. There are trees, hills, lounge areas, places to picnic, and even an full-blown running track. It has to be one of the most unique amenities proposed for the roof of any Downtown building (hopefully there is a pool or lake up there as well).

This proposal goes to show you don't have to have height in order to make a project stand out and change the entire landscape of an urban neighborhood.

Source: The Merc







Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Starlight Cinemas 2021

A staple of the Downtown San Jose summer entertainment scene is returning to St. James Park on July 21st. Four family friendly movies will play outdoors around 8pm on Wednesdays: "Up," "The Perfect Game," "Raya and the Last Dragon," and "The Karate Kid." The pre-show entertainment this Wednesday will include a balloon artist (goes well with the "Up" theme), kettle corn, a gift from the Children's Discovery Museum, and a performance by the San Jose Dance Theater.

This event is completely free and brought to you by the San Jose Downtown Association and several sponsors. Fore more information head over to the Starlight Cinemas page.


SAN JOSE - The San Jose Downtown Association is back with Starlight Cinemas, presented by First Tech Federal Credit Union. Get ready for free summer outdoor movies on four consecutive Wednesdays starting July 21 at dusk at St. James Park in downtown San Jose. 


Starlight Cinemas kicks off with "Up" on July 21 and "The Perfect Game" on July 28. Catch the new Disney movie, "Raya and the Last Dragon" on Aug. 4. We'll close off the series Aug. 11 with a classic, the 1984 version of "The Karate Kid."  (Note:  Karate Kid is rated PG )

Grab food to-go from a downtown restaurant and arrive an hour before dusk for pre-movie fun and games.  The pre-movie fun for the July 21 (starting about 8 p.m.) feature includes: 
  • Balloon artist on site.
  • Ball blower take-and-make kit for each child to take home, courtesy Children's Discovery Museum
  • Kettle Corn, flavored popcorn and lemonade for sale
  • Performance by San Jose Dance Theater
The movies are held in conjunction with the City's Viva Parks programming.

Check http://sjdowntown.com/starlight for more information

Park in the Third Street or Market & San Pedro garages. Parking is free for the first 90 minutes. ParkSJ.org

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

New single from San Jose Band, Love District: "Feels like Home"

Four members from San Jose that fell in love with post-punk and new wave have just released a rockin new single. Their style is reminiscent of The Cure, The Smiths, and New Order with their own spin. 

The new single is entitled "Feels Like Home" and it's about life in a dense city where you can feel alone and at home at the same time. That's all the more poignant after 16 months of dealing with COVID. In their words: "It's about about how we can forget the important things in life during the endless grind and distractions in our lives. Wherever you live, whatever the situation, we all have a place we feel is our home."

I've already added it to my playlist and look forward to checking them out live in the Bay Area sometime. You can listen to "Feels Like Home" on Spotify over here.

Below is a bit more info about about band:

"After releasing their debut EP Control,” and their album Delusions,” Love District is looking to reestablish their sound with their upcoming releases. The group has played the Ernie Ball stage at Vans Warped Tour, worked with CocaCola, and has played many festivals and venues while becoming a staple in the Bay Area music scene."


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Downtown Daydream: What now for N San Pedro St?

It has been over a year since the pandemic first impacted our day-to-day lives. Among the struggles that swept across the world, one silver lining has been the increased emphasis on outdoor dining and placemaking. Faced with the challenge to keep business and restaurants alive while keeping their people safe, cities across the world took a hard look at how they were utilizing their existing spaces. In many instances, this meant creating new outdoor gathering locations. 

San Jose was no exception. We saw the expansion of existing parklet programs, seating in some pedestrian areas, and in some cases, complete street closures (dubbed the "Al Fresco" program). As COVID-19 infections start to decline, and vaccination programs pick up speed, it's time to consider what we've learned from these projects. More importantly, we have an opportunity to make our spaces better than pre-pandemic.

N San Pedro St (credit Silicon Valley Lofts)


In this blog we'll focus on the street closure program. Specifically, the N San Pedro St implementation of Al Fresco. We have examples that will likely be temporary (e.g. Santana Row), and examples that have gone above and beyond (e.g. Post Street). The San Pedro experiment stands out because while it served its purpose, it also showed how much potential there is for permanent improvement in the area. 

There's support from neighboring businesses, but we shouldn't accept the status quo as the final state of a pedestrian-friendly San Pedro St. We need to think bigger without being unrealistic.

The progress


A few things have already happened over the past couple years (even before the pandemic) to boost activity, to varying results.
  1. Moment San Jose finally created retail on the street for patrons to check out before/after their meals. This has created some success stories, and some former tenants even ended up expanding to their own brick & mortar locations. There's a mix of fashion, art, and essentials (e.g. The Source Zero).
  2. There have been various pop up events that already closed off the street. The longest lasting example was the downtown farmer's market on Fridays. Other examples included Superbowl 50 promotional events and a placemaking experiment with ping pong and corn hole.
  3. Nearby construction brings more of a complete retail experience (or at least the potential for it). Modera San Pedro created a new lively alleyway. 188 W St James should, in theory, bring a new block of retail and/or restaurants, including a two story building dedicated to a restaurant. Centerra has finally started filling in its retail spots. In other words, folks will be walking further and further from central San Pedro Square.

The challenges


There have been rumors for years that the core blocks of N San Pedro St would become a pedestrian-only zone. We saw some hints of it during downtown farmer's markets. But there are a few reasons why it's been a little controversial.
  1. One side of the street is the parking structure, with one of the main entrances on San Pedro St.
  2. The parking structure exit is on the north side, and flows out into either Market St or San Pedro St. This means there's a bit of a pinch--the San Pedro St entrance and exits will always mark the end of the pedestrian zone unless they are relocated or shut down.
  3. There isn't a lot of pedestrian traffic at all times of day. San Pedro Square tends to attract an employee lunch crowd and a social dinner crowd. 
  4. The street itself is not built for pedestrians. The walking experience feels incomplete.
These are some reasons to keep the street open to cars, but they are not insurmountable issues. The area just needs some adjustment and planning to unlock its full potential.

The potential


I'm not saying the following changes are necessarily easy or cheap. But they are details that are required to take San Pedro Square to the next level.

Level the entire street


The first thing I notice when I walk through the area is that there are a lot of attempts to work around the inherently pedestrian-hostile features of a street. The ground is dirty and unpleasant to walk on. It's easy to trip over the curb, which also means most parts are not accessible to the disabled. There's a constant nagging feeling that you should probably walk on the sidewalk as you've been conditioned to do. 

Some restaurants have found workarounds for the 
pedestrian-hostile features of the street

The most important change is to make sure there's no leveling transition from the "sidewalk" to the "street". In fact, get rid of the two concepts altogether so patrons don't have to think twice about walking to the middle of the street. I understand there maybe some requirements for purposes of drainage, but I think this can be done strategically with as little obstruction to the general walking experience as possible.

Make the street more welcoming with brick (or anything but asphalt)


A level street also means an opportunity to improve the material used for the flooring. Personally, I find brick to be versatile, friendly, and theoretically easy to keep clean. We don't have to look too far for examples of this. For example, the following stretch of Redwood City is easy to navigate on foot.

Downtown Redwood City (credit: Alison Fujimoto)

Not only is it more comfortable to walk on brick, seating options also feel less temporary and more deliberate.

Expand the Moment San Jose program


There are currently four storefronts that occupy Moment San Jose. This was a great start, but the program should expand to help plug in the gaps in street activation. Ideally the entire street-facing side of the parking structure should be some sort of art or retail.

Not only should more parking spaces be converted into retail, the program should experiment with more spaces of different sizes and functions. If this is indeed a way for small business owners to blossom and graduate into other storefronts, the city needs to invest in it. 

One of the biggest gaps that can benefit from this program is the N San Pedro St garage entrance. Which leads me to my next point...

Update the N San Pedro St. entrance and exit plan


First off, the parking structure does not require an entrance on both sides. For the benefits of the N San Pedro St pedestrian plan, the only entrance should be through Market St. This allow the current entrance area to be repurposed into something worthy of its premium location (e.g. some form of the Moment program).

Second, the parking structure exits are very awkward today. The parking structure exit faces north, but the actual street exits are on the east and west. Both exits interrupt pedestrian traffic: the west exit prevents full street closure to cars on N San Pedro St, while the east exit does not make it clear to pedestrians in the corner if they have right of way or not. 

Here's a crude marking of the two exits in red (camera facing southeast):

San Pedro Square parking structure, looking SE

I'm not an expert in traffic design, but at least one option seems to be to exit all traffic (multi lane if needed) on the north side (blue arrows), which gives the east and west more flexibility to optimize for pedestrians.

Just to clearly illustrate why the eastern exit is confusing, here's another angle:


A car approaching this exit may very well think they can exit at the corner or that they have right of way to exit to their right. A pedestrian may very well assume the continued sidewalk means they have right of way (and they might). There are some guiding cones, but they're flimsy and offer no protection.

If the exits were at the north side, then some of these corners can be used for other purposes.

Add some density

For now, the street is dominated by outdoor seating from existing restaurants that cannot (or prefer not yet to) use their regular indoor capacity. When eventually indoor dining is fully accepted again, there's no good reason for these restaurants to be the primary occupants of the street. I'm not opposed to expanding their existing patios, but I also think there is room for more to see and do on the street.

There's no singular idea on what should be there instead, but here are some ideas.

Bulletins

If you've heard locals ask "what's there to do this weekend?", then you've seen first hand that it's difficult to learn about events around the city. A bulletin can give locals a way to advertise.



They can also be designed in such a way that they showcase artwork instead. Either way, it is something that passersby can spend some time absorbing, admiring, considering. 

Kiosks

In other countries and cities I've seen this concept executed well. Kiosks can be an open storefront for retail or food. They can be fully enclosed. They can even be primarily used for information/advocacy. 

Open concept

Enclosed concept (source: Sidewalking Victoria)


Regardless of the format, they are a great way to liven up a pedestrian area and make it feel like a street for people, not cars.

A small stage

N San Pedro St. is actually strangely quiet a lot of times. It's worth considering adding a small stage for small shows throughout the week.



Depending on the design this might be best fit for the ends of the street (and provide a natural way to close off the street) or it can be toward the middle.

The conclusion


I'm not a designer, but I consider most of the suggestions in this post to be incremental, realistic, and feasible. I've seen other cities do a much better job of livening up key blocks for pedestrians, and the city should really focus on making sure this is a no-brainer area to visit. I think any one of these improvements would be great, but a comprehensive set of changes can truly unlock the true potential. Let's hope that the success of the Al Fresco program will lead to more sophisticated concepts!


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Dine Downtown 2021!

One of the best opportunities to try out new restaurants at a discount launches today. 27 restaurants will be participating in the latest Dine Downtown event with special three and four course fixed-price menus. This time around instead of a restaurant week, the event will take place over the course of over two weeks.

Several new restaurants such as The Good Spot, Petiscos, Scott's Chowder House, and The Shop are on the list. In fact, the only restauranteurs in San Jose to ever get a Michelin Star have three different eateries on the list: Adega, Pastelaria, and Petiscos. Old favorites like Orchestria Palm Court, Habana Cuba, and Mezcal are on the list too.

To see the full press release and the list of restaurants, just scroll on down.



SSAN JOSE – Dine Downtown San Jose Restaurant “Week” returns for 18 days, starting July 1.

 

Normally the “week” lasts 10 days, but Dine Downtown was delayed and extended successfully to six weeks last October and November amid the COVID pandemic, so it will be extended again this year to assist with economic recovery after 15 months of tough times.

 

Twenty-seven downtown eateries have confirmed participation, offering food-and-drink pairings, 3- and 4-course price-fixed menus, or chef specials.

 

For first-timers as well as veteran downtown diners, the restaurant promotion provides a good way to explore new places and return to old favorites.  Several new Dine Downtown restaurants that opened during the pandemic are participating:  The Good Spot, Petiscos, Scott’s Chowder House and The Shop by Chef Baca. 

 

The newcomers have waited a long time for their chance to show off their mettle during Dine Downtown.  For example, Petiscos, new to the SoFA District, has a three-course menu that includes appetizers from flamed chouriço to asparagus rice; 15 choices for the main course from these categories:  shells & claws, tentacles & scales, and feathers & bones; and five choices for “sweet endings.”

 

On the customer side, every price point can participate.  Pastelaria by Adega offers a grilled cheese sandwich, drink and pastry for $10.  Grace Deli and café has a breakfast combo of egg, bacon, avocado and hash browns with salsa and fruits, plus bottomless coffee for $11.

 

The Grill on the Alley decided to mix it up, offering a featured cocktail –  a Ruby Red Lemon Drop – to go with their three-course meal of appetizer, filet mignon pot pie or Norwegian halibut as entrée, plus dessert.

 

Nomikai social food + drinkery offers chef’s specials and cocktail specials.  Choose from mango jalepeno wings, pork belly musubi on the food side or P.O.G Pig or a green tea highball.

 

71 Saint Peter and Mezcal have participated in all 13 years of Dine Downtown.

 

All the choices are posted at dinedowntown.com.

 

“It will be smiles all-around this summer,” said Julie Carlson, SJDA marketing director.  “Our chefs, hosts and servers are ready to welcome their customers ready for a beautiful evening out in downtown.”

 

 

2021 Dine Downtown

restaurant roster

  • 4th Street Pizza
  • 71 Saint Peter
  • Adega
  • The City Fish
  • Devine Cheese and Wine
  • District
  • Enoteca la Storia San Jose
  • The Farmers Union
  • The Good Spot
  • Grace Deli & Cafe
  • The Grill on the Alley
  • Habana Cuba
  • Il Fornaio
  • Mezcal Restaurant 
  • Nomikai Social Food + Drinkery
  • Nox Cookie Bar
  • Orchestria Palm Court
  • Paper Moon Cafe
  • Pastelaria
  • Petiscos
  • Scott’s Chowder House
  • Scott’s Seafood
  • The Shop by Chef Baca
  • SP2 Communal Bar + Restaurant
  • Spoonfish Poke
  • Voltaire Coffee Roasters