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City Desk: March 25, 2015

Irvine Mission Town Center Proposal Adds Momentum for Downtown Revival

As they say, if you build it they will come. Since Silicon Sage Builders put its toe into the murky waters of development in Santa Clara’s long-gone downtown and found that it could be done, others are now looking to get into the act. Now it seems fair to say that Santa Clara’s historic town center is headed for a comeback.

In January, Santa Clara University unveiled its plan to create a public pedestrian mall at Franklin and Alviso streets to complement downtown revitalization and lay the foundation for a downtown arts district with a seamless connection from the new Art building to SCU’s Recital Hall, Mayer and Fess Parker Theaters, and the Mission Church – which would also heighten visibility of Santa Clara’s Mission history.

At the end of February, Irvine Company provided a first look at its concept for Mission Town Center, a mixed-use project that the developer is proposing at the corner of Benton between The Alameda and El Camino, across the street from the Police station and Caltrain depot – and the planned arrival of BART station. Currently, the property is largely warehouses.

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The project has been in the works for two years, and City Manager Julio Fuentes credited the good will of James Viso, one of the principal property owners, and the Irvine Company’s willingness to take on a project that hasn’t been able to get off the ground for half a century, for what seems like the turning point for a reborn downtown.

Irvine put together the 6.5 acre parcel from 17 separate parcels, some owned by the City. The initial plan is for 27,000 sf of retail and 417 one- and two-bedroom apartments – which would help ease SCU’s housing problems, as well as slow the pace of the minidorm-ization of the Old Quad.

The development would also include a public pocket park and a grassy plaza at the corner of Benton and El Camino that’s conceived as a gathering place for events like the City’s annual Street Dance.

The project would “activate,” the Benton-El Camino corridor, with the goal of creating a destination like Berkeley’s College Ave, Sunnyvale’s Murphy Ave. and downtown Campbell, said Santa Clara Planning Director Kevin Riley.

Irvine’s plan is to incorporate several different – albeit Mediterranean – architectural styles, varying building heights, and distinctive street features to create visual interest; with street level retail and restaurants to draw people and activity.

Because of their proximity, a partnership of some kind between Bill Wilson Center (which provides social services to young people as well as housing and supports for young people aging out of faster care) and SCU – a Catholic university that stresses an active socially-conscious Christianity – would seem like a natural. Bill Wilson Director Sparky Harlan was there on February 24 to make that appeal.

“Since Redevelopment was eliminated, it has totally stopped [the development of] any [affordable] housing units for us and our young people. So anything that could help out there, as well as jobs for our young people, I’m willing to talk about these things, and I do think there should be discussion because we will be on the corner, and there will be homeless children on the corner.”

Mission Town Center by the Numbers

Irvine’s plan will increase the value of the property from $519,000 to $227.3 million, bringing the city an estimated $231,000 in new property tax revenue (right now the City collects a few thousand dollars). It will bring Santa Clara Unified close to $900,000, the County $273,000, Community Colleges $159,000, and the Water District $136,000. In addition, it’s estimated to bring the City another $140,000 in sales tax. Development will create about 1,300 construction jobs, and 200 permanent jobs.

Because the project will be subject to the City’s parkland developer fee, the project will bring $1.25 million in fees or a combination of suitable land and cash.

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Owens Corning

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