Ethnic enclave readying for new developments

SAN JOSE — San Jose’s Japantown, a mix of retail, residential and light industrial development still has opportunity for growth and developers are taking advantage of the available space to build new retail and housing in the ethnic enclave.

At the center of potential new developments is the Japantown Corporation Yard, bordered by Sixth, Seventh, Taylor and Jackson streets. The empty lot was most recently used as a service area for San Jose’s maintenance vehicles and is also the site of historic Heinlenville, San Jose’s Chinatown, which was named after its proprietor John Heinlen.

Over the past several years, developers and local community members have worked to develop the Corporation Yard into a new mixed-use development. Previously, the Nichi Bei Weekly reported that Portland, Ore.-based Williams & Dame & Associates had hoped to purchase the 5.8-acre plot of land and break ground in 2015, but the project has since been delayed. Currently called “Japantown Square,” Related California of San Francisco and Williams & Dame are jointly working toward building “approximately 532 residential units in two new six-story buildings,” according to an e-mail from Matt Brown, development manager at Williams & Dame.

While it was delayed, John Ristow, vice president of the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose, said the project is moving forward and “still very good.” Ristow, a neighborhood resident, said the project is important to Japantown and that the Japantown Community Congress was initially involved in selecting Williams & Dame as a developer.

Brown said the project fulfills two goals established by the Japantown Community Congress: to redevelop the Corporation Yard and to establish a permanent home for San Jose Taiko. “These have both been long sought-after by the community and there is genuine excitement that these goals are now within reach,” he said. The Creative Center for the Arts, which will be “a permanent home for San Jose Taiko and other Silicon Valley arts-related organizations” is currently under design according to Brown. He went on to say he hopes construction, which will take about two years to complete, will begin late summer next year.

Across the street on 675 North Sixth St., First Community Housing’s six-story 75-unit senior housing project, however, is on track to open in November of this year, according to Geoffrey Morgan, executive director of First Community Housing.

According to Morgan, once completed, Christian Church Homes will become the property manager. “This community will include a service coordinator, who will help coordinate activities and refer residents to resources to keep them independent, such as the Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service,” he said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly.

While Morgan acknowledged that the reduction in funding sources and the crash of the bond market hampered Japantown’s new developments, he said his organization was able to secure low income housing tax credits thanks to “the quality of this development,” as well as the input from the community and partnership with the city.

“It’s a really good project. The developers and architects did quality work,” Ristow said. “I’m glad they were able to move forward even during the economic downturn. This was a much-needed project and I wish there were more.”

“Much needed” indeed, as Morgan said he provided 600 applications in June, and they were all taken within two days. Morgan said they are in the process of selecting future tenants from the pool of applications. “Today, we have over three times the number of applicants for every available unit,” he said. “Staff is now in the process of qualifying applicants so they can move in sometime in November.”

“This project will activate an important part of Japantown, and honor the region with architecture which reflects the Japantown neighborhood,” Morgan said. “This building will set a standard for sustainability, minimizing environmental impacts to both its residents and the surrounding neighborhood, including encouraging the reduction or elimination of car usage via the distribution of VTA transit passes for all residents.”

Jerome King, principal of The Office of Jerome King Architecture and Planning, said the apartments match the height of the adjacent Fuji Towers, constructed in 1960, to the north and the historic Nishioka Fish Market building to the south. King said working with the community during the early stages of development allowed for this project to “move forward even after the market rate housing that it was supposed to support – dropped out.”

To the northeast of Japantown, Austin, Texas-based Hanover Company plans to redevelop the warehouses at 357 East Taylor St. into a 403-unit market rate housing project.

Currently owned by Libitzky Properties Companies, the Cannery Park Village features a historic cannery plant currently occupied by Gordon Biersch Brewery Company. Kevin Perkins, associate principal of Libitzky, said they hope to sell the property with entitlements to Hanover once the city of San Jose approves the plan. “We’re excited about Hanover as a development partner,” Perkins said. “They have been doing a very diligent job of creating a good project.”

With the plan being heard in the city next December, Perkins said they hope to close the sale with Hanover soon after that month or in January. Libitzky, which purchases, develops and operates mixed-use industrial and office projects, will retain the Gordon Biersch property.

Scott Youdall, development partner at the Hanover Company, confirmed to the Nichi Bei Weekly they plan to develop the 403-unit project and hope to break ground in early 2016.

Among other projects, Mio Japantown by ROEM Corporation recently built 103 market-rate apartments across the street from the Corporation Yard at 688 North Seventh St.

Derek Allen, vice president of operations at ROEM, said the project took 10 years of planning to design a building, not only because of the unique triangular property line bordered by the railroad tracks, but to “build something that works,” with San Jose’s Jackson Taylor Specific Plan. He said he hopes his property will work even better as the retail corridor gets further developed in the future.

As a resident himself, Ristow sees the reason why developers are interested in the Japantown area. “It’s a very nice place to live. It’s a self-contained community with restaurants, services and grocery stores. Combined with the historical and cultural significance, the area is enticing to developers,” he said. Despite the new developments, however, Japantown residents have taken them in stride.

While Ristow said the Japantown Community Congress heard complaints and concerns from residents about parking and noise, the projects so far have all “worked out” and “add(ed) character to Japantown.”

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