Changing the Skyline of Downtown San Jose

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Aug 29, 2022

Best Practices + Lessons Learned for Urban Revitalization Developers

It’s no secret that downtown San Jose is on the verge of a transformative era with many exciting developments under construction and in the pipeline. National developers are elevating and activating parts of the metropolitan core through a variety of major projects and several mega campuses. Along with the City of San Jose, these developers understand the benefit of building and renovating a cohesive ecosystem throughout the downtown area to best serve the community for many years to come.

Having teamed up with the City of San Jose and many of the major developers, Civil Engineering and Land Surveying Firm, Kier + Wright (K+W) is playing a vital role as one of the primary engineering firms on 17 downtown projects. With 50 years’ experience working on projects in downtown San Jose, K+W has proved its worth as a leading expert in these downtown projects; with years of experience, comes many lessons learned, new design approaches and best practices to follow when revitalizing downtown urban areas.

K+W Vice President, Mark Knudsen, who has been in the trenches of multiple downtown San Jose projects since the early 2000’s, understands what it takes to help set clients up for success. One of the biggest foundational practices Mark pushes for is strong communication early on between all team members to receive optimal results.

“Throughout my many years working on downtown San Jose projects, I’ve learned to encourage my clients to submit a preapplication early on in the process,” says Mark. “This allows the owner to spend less money from a soft cost standpoint and to get the groundwork on what needs to occur before we design to assumptions.”

Downtown San Jose is branding itself to be a dense, bustling, and vibrant metropolitan area by capitalizing on designs for future growth by improving upon the City’s existing infrastructure. But sometimes, no matter how prepared you are to tackle a new downtown project, unique and complex utility challenges arise when designing in such a constrained and dense area.

One of the main lessons learned that has shaped K+W’s processes when working on downtown projects, stems from understanding utility planning and relocation in dense, urban areas. K+W has faced many different challenges when it comes to preexisting urban conditions as we’ve become experts in working around these existing utilities. With many of our projects, K+W has learned that it is crucial to understand how to plan ahead when tackling existing utilities.

Project Civil Engineer, Liz Johnson, PE, understands the importance of getting offsite street improvements submitted early as it pushes for a smoother process.

“Always plan ahead when dealing with existing utilities,” says Liz. “Knowing where these utilities should be located and making sure there’s enough space is a key component when working on downtown San Jose projects.”

Stepping out of the box and being resourceful is another key approach that K+W encourages for when designing for dense urban environments. With the highly sustainable LEED Gold targeted 200 Park, K+W creatively designed one of downtown San Jose’s first raised flush concrete intersections. This unique design keeps bicycles physically separate from motor vehicles up until the intersection, providing a high degree of comfort and safety.

Emad Sarieddine, PE, Vice President of K+W, led the 200 Park team to creatively design the protected intersection. “We worked with the city and our traffic consultant, Fehr & Peers on how to best implement this protected intersection while keeping everyone in their own lane,” says Emad. “As a result, the intersection is designed to be more comfortable and safer for pedestrians and bicyclist.”

K+W is also reimaging what’s possible and integrating unique technology aspects to several of the downtown San Jose projects such as the historic Bank of Italy building and the 20-story Park Habitat project.

As part of the Bank of Italy’s surveying scope, K+W used three-dimensional scanning and modeling of both the interior and exterior to create as-builts of the entire 14-story, hundred-year-old building. The 3D modeling created an unmatched record of the physical reality of the historic building to be used for future development and remodeling projects.

“When it to comes dealing with a historic structure, most drawings or archival materials about the construction is incomplete or outdated, making the process of reconstruction difficult,” says K+W Vice President, Ryan Amaya, PLS. “Utilizing 3D scanning technology rapidly captured high accuracy information, saving time and ultimately cost, which of course is important when delivering results to a client.”

With 9 developments targeting LEED Certification, including six LEED Platinum and one Zero-Net Energy, just in K+W’s portfolio of DTSJ projects, sustainable design practices and innovations serve as the backbone for DTSJ. From Solar PV panel systems and recycled materials to stormwater treatment and green roofs, walls and terraces with recycled water and blackwater treatment systems.

Although the State and Regional Water Boards continue to strive to ensure that surface and ground water resources are protected and managed in a sustainable manner, as K+W Associate, Nektarios Matheou, PE explains, “It’s not always easy implementing C3 Stormwater designs in constrained areas, but we’re experienced enough to know which measure works and how to implement it. The downtown San Jose projects have allowed us to get creative and use a wide-variety of treatment measures in order to fulfill each project’s requirements.”

San Jose Downtown Association’s outlook for the future includes treating the downtown area as a destination not just a pass through. Their vision is to be responsible, sustainable, resilient, and more connected to the surrounding community and its inhabitants.

Finally, a foundational truth for urban revitalization team to understand is that stakeholder relationships and collaborative efforts are key to the success of the project.

“The relationship we’ve built with the city allows us to streamline different processes and know what’s required to make a project smoother for the developers,” says Emad. “We capitalize on our many years of experience and our lessons learned in this area to help lead the developers in a certain direction to meet the city’s standards while also looking after our client’s interests.”

Ryan discusses the importance of understanding the City’s visions, expectations, and goals for what they're trying to achieve.

“As a firm, we’ve become experts in this area by understanding the City’s vision and aligning it with our client’s expectations,” says Ryan. “Throughout the years, we’ve built a successful working relationship with the City by examining what is currently needed and looking at the future challenges and opportunities of city planning.”

Chuck McCallum, PE, President of K+W, values K+W’s long-term relationship with the City of San Jose and developers who’re changing the skyline.

“We’re proud to be part of the team of visionaries who’re making a long-term economic investment in downtown San Jose,” says Chuck. “Working on these projects is a great opportunity for us to put our mark on the skyline and create something beautiful for future employees and residents of San Jose.”

Labeled as the heart of Silicon Valley, downtown San Jose is perfectly situated to become one of the largest major hubs in Northern California. K+W is helping downtown San Jose become a city that’s not just suitable for today, but also for future expansion.

“The cityscape of downtown San Jose allows employees to live and work close to each other and enjoy amenities in the downtown area,” says Chuck. “Downtown San Jose will be a successful area for both long term investment opportunities and companies located in Silicon Valley.”

To learn more, please view the video above.