March 13, 2019 - Plans for iconic San Jose landmark move forward

Emily Deruy

San Francisco boasts the Golden Gate Bridge. New York has the Statue of Liberty. And San Jose…well, it really doesn’t have an iconic attraction.

But after months of planning and negotiating, that’s finally set to change.

Despite pushback from environmental groups, the San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to allow a local nonprofit to hold an international competition for a landmark at Arena Green, off Santa Clara Street near the SAP Center.

The nonprofit behind the effort, the San Jose Light Tower Corporation (SJLTC), has argued that “this new, distinctive, and world-class public landmark will be a gathering place that produces civic pride, spurs economic development, and is a ‘must-see’ for visitors and locals alike.”

It’s unclear exactly what type of landmark will grace Arena Green, or when. Now with the council’s approval, the SJLTC — whose executive director is Steve Borkenhagen, the downtown booster behind the now-shuttered restaurant Eulipia — will move forward with the design competition and hopes to bring a final concept to the council no later than January of next year.

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a 237-foot electric light tower loomed over the intersection of Market and Santa Clara streets. But it was removed after being damaged in a 1915 windstorm, and the nonprofit and the city aren’t interested in replicating the tower. Rather, they want artists to conceive a new homage to Silicon Valley’s urban core.

But the Sierra Club, which emailed members of the Loma Prieta chapter about the proposal, and other groups are concerned that whatever ends up at Arena Green — which sits where the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek run together — could disturb endangered fish, migratory birds and other wildlife that rely on the park space.

“This site is one of the few stretches of intact riparian corridor through downtown,” Jean Dresden, the coordinator of the group San Jose Parks Advocates wrote in a letter to the council opposing the plan.

And, Dresden said, pushing a new landmark at Arena Green could make it more difficult to raise money to redevelop St. James Park downtown.