San Jose Sharks say downtown projects may force SAP Center exit

©The Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks on Thursday raised concerns about being forced out of the SAP Center in the city’s downtown because of plans for massive development projects near the sports complex and Diridon train station.

“We definitely do not want to leave,” Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment, said in an interview with this news organization Thursday. “This is our home. This is where we want to be. Leaving is the last resort. But it could come to that if the arena becomes unviable.”

The Sharks, in an open letter to fans and supporters on Thursday, said it has become increasingly alarmed that the proposals for the development of an array of projects on the western edges of downtown San Jose could imperil the future of the Sharks in the Bay Area’s largest city.

“For more than a year, we have been sharing our concerns with you regarding the proposed, massive development projects within the Diridon area of downtown San Jose, which surrounds SAP Center,” the Sharks said in the letter. “For the past several years, we have been sharing those same concerns with city of San Jose officials and Google.”

The warning from the Sharks could shove city officials onto a tightrope as they attempt to balance the needs of the city’s only major sports team and the municipality’s quest to dramatically revitalize the city’s small downtown district.

Google plans a transit-oriented development of office buildings, homes, shops, restaurants, entertainment hubs, cultural centers, and parks near the Diridon Station and the SAP complex that is known as Downtown West. The train station, already a hub for Amtrak, the ACE Train, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, and light rail, is slated to become a BART stop at some point.

“I am absolutely certain that nothing about our community’s long-standing ambitions for transit and urban development in Downtown West will threaten the Sharks’ treasured tenure here,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in comments sent to this news organization.

The mayor pointed out that the development could have major benefits for the hockey team.

“These projects will bring thousands of BART riders, new residents, workers, and fans to the Sharks’ front door — a windfall for any professional sports franchise,” Mayor Liccardo said.

Along with Google’s Downtown West project, additional development on a large scale is envisioned by the city of San Jose and developers in the downtown areas adjacent to the proposed transit village.

The Sharks expressed dismay with the current results of the talks involving the hockey team and city officials.

“Unfortunately, those discussions have yielded limited results and the planners of these projects appear intent on moving forward in a manner that could force the Sharks out of San Jose,” the Sharks stated in the letter.

The Sharks, though, made it clear that Google isn’t the problem, in the team’s view.

“It would be inappropriate to blame Google for all of this,” Becher said. “The city has a delicate balancing act. BART, Caltrain, Google, and the Sharks all have to be considered.”

Mountain View-based Google said Thursday it has been collaborating with multiple key parties and groups, including the Sharks, as the tech titan’s game-changing development proposal navigates community scrutiny and the city review process.

“For years, we’ve been working closely with the Sharks, the City, and the community on our proposed development in San Jose,” a Google spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Sharks and the city as the process moves forward.”

The city of San Jose has an existing partnership with the San Jose Sharks and an existing agreement related to parking for the SAP Center. Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a land-use and planning consultancy, called on city leaders to protect that deal with the Sharks.

“Google is not the bad guy here,” Staedler said. “The problem is the city’s inability to work with an existing partner and find a win-win solution.”

The primary areas of concern for the San Jose Sharks:

— street network access

— parking difficulties

— construction impacts

The Sharks noted that the development endeavors could occur over a period of 10 to 15 years and that multiple major construction projects could occur at the same time.

“There does not appear to be a plan that ensures SAP Center patrons can continue to safely and conveniently access the arena, and that our neighbors can maintain their quality of life during this transformational period,” the Sharks stated in the open letter.

Despite the frustrations and the development-linked uncertainties, Sharks’ executives made it clear the team wants to remain in downtown San Jose for decades to come.

“We are so optimistic we can work this out,” Becher said. “We want this to be our home. We are not interested in going anywhere else. We could be forced to go somewhere else, but not because we want to leave.”


©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)