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Reconnecting Franklin St. Takes Center Stage at Downtown Revitalization Committee Meeting

While some are waiting for Related Companies’ creation of a new Santa Clara city center on the Northside, on Nov. 15 the City Council Chambers were filled to capacity with people who want to reestablish Santa Clara’s center of gravity in its historical downtown.

Last week’s meeting of the Downtown Revitalization Committee opened with a review of the grassroots group Reclaiming Our Downtown’s vision for a restored downtown Santa Clara.

“Now is the time to …get something going,” Old Quad Residents Association president Adam Thompson said Wednesday night. “Santa Clara is a great place to live but a horrible place to hang out in.  We’ve talked about the great things we want to do in the Northside. And those are great things. But that isn’t what our hearts ache for.”

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The current downtown revitalization effort began almost two years ago, when Reclaiming started talking about restoring the original downtown street grid and rebuilding some of the historical buildings, including the theater. The centerpiece of Reclaiming’s concept is a reconnected Franklin St.

But that’s easier said than done.

Franklin St. currently dead-ends at Monroe St., at the Franklin Mall. The City owns the property fronting on Lafayette, and those leases will come up for renewal in the next few years.

Between Monroe and Lafayette Streets there is the Franklin Mall and Prometheus’ Park Central apartments.

“Most of the property is privately owned,” said Council Member Teresa O’Neill at Wednesday’s meeting. “And I’m hearing a lot of divergence among them [owners] about whether they want to sell their properties.

“In Santa Clara we do not use eminent domain,” she continued. “I can’t see that politically that in Santa Clara we’d do eminent domain for commercial purposes. And we don’t have the money to buy all this property.”

Dave DeLozier, a former City Council Member and second-generation owner of Peterson’s Insurance on the corner of Benton and Monroe, is a passionate supporter of downtown renewal. But he also expressed strong reservations about recreating the street grid.

Peterson’s Insurance was established in downtown in 1929, and DeLozier’s was the first building to be constructed in the Franklin Mall, after the demolition, which, DeLozier points out, “we didn’t ask to happen.”

Today, “there’s a lot of blood sweat and tears in that building,” said DeLozier. “That’s my mother’s retirement. That’s my retirement. That’s my kids’ retirement. You’re going to have to tear that property from our hands.

“I spent eight years on City Council,” he continued. “I’ve been on at least 10 of these committees… I wish that this meeting was noticed to the property owners when you’re talking about tearing down all the buildings and taking away all the parking.”

Reclaiming co-chair Rod Dunham wanted to make sure that people understood that the group had “no desire to take a bulldozer to Franklin Mall. We’re not here to annihilate the Franklin Mall,” he reiterated.

Long time Old Quad resident Don Arnoldy observed, “You can’t fix a problem by doing the same thing that caused it. And you’re in danger of doing what the builders of the Franklin Mall did.”  Any new plan should “grow the way cities used to grow,” he said.

The meeting ended with an overview of active and planned redevelopment projects in the Old Quad: SCU’s Franklin St. pedestrian mall and Silicon Sage’s Downtown Gateway development on Monroe between Franklin and Benton. Another developer has proposed building 55 townhouses at 575 Benton, Santa Clara Planning Director Andrew Crabtree reported.

Further out on the horizon is a reprise of the Mission Town Center development on El Camino and Benton. Prometheus is proposing 355 apartments and 22,000 sf of commercial space, according to Crabtree. The City can also designate Franklin St. as a right-of-way again, even if there are no plans to rebuild it.

The Mission Town Center project was originally proposed by Irvine, but was withdrawn when the City Council’s repeated demands to redesign the project. The Council-approved design had 318 apartments (31 below market rent) and 22,000 sf of commercial space.

The City has held four community focus sessions led by Urban Field Studios principals Frank Fuller and Heidi Sokolowsky and will be making a final proposal to the City Council in the next few months. Urban Field has been a consultant to Santa Clara at least since 2015. They are also consultants for San José’s Winchester Urban Villages project.

Reclaiming Our Downtown (reclaimingourdowntown.org/) has a wealth of photographs on the group’s Facebook page. Their proposal for downtown reconstruction can be found at tinyurl.com/scdowtown.

The City Council’s Downtown Revitalization Plan Committee was created in 2010 and “meets when needed to review the current Downtown revitalization plan and to evaluate whether to re-confirm the existing conceptual plan or to re-visit the plan to explore alternative approaches.”

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