Santa Clara County to Mull Plans to Develop 55-Acre Civic Center

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will consider next week a proposal to deal exclusively with two major companies to develop the county's 55-acre civic center in midtown San Jose.

The board's Finance and Government Operations Committee has recommended the county enter into negotiations with Lowe Enterprises of Los Angeles and Gensler, architects based in San Francisco, to finalize a plan to build the Santa Clara County Civic Center Campus.

Supervisors Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese voted last Thursday to have the full board consider at its Sept. 24 meeting whether to prepare an exclusive negotiating agreement with Lowe and Gensler and begin finalizing business terms for the campus development.

Bruce Knopf, the county's director of asset and economic development, said that Lowe and Gensler impressed a county selection committee set up to consider developers with experience building combined public and private projects.

The county wants a builder to submit a master plan for a mixed-use and "market driven" development plan for the county's 55 acres bounded by North First, West Mission and North San Pedro streets and West Younger Avenue.

The master plan would have to integrate public uses with private ones, with at least 600,000 to 1.17 million square feet of county government office space and a proposal for reusing the former San Jose City Hall property.

Lowe has been developing a similar project, the San Diego County Operations Center, with 915,000 square feet at a cost of $500 million, according to Knopf.

The San Diego County complex, started in 2008, is on 47 acres with two 150,000-square-foot four-story buildings and a 15,000-square-foot conference center, according to San Diego County's website.

The final part of the San Diego project, which also redeveloped outdated and inefficient buildings, is a new 118,500-square-foot Registrar of Voters building set to be completed in December, according to the website.

Closer to home, Lowe is also in the process of developing 1.8 million square feet of Class-A office space on 43 acres off of North First Street and Charcot Avenue in San Jose, about a mile north of the county's civic center, Knopf said.

Gensler is well-established in the Bay Area, has worked on government buildings on the federal, state and local levels and has experience adapting historic buildings for reuse, one of the key parts of the civic center project, Knopf said.

The former City Hall, closed since 2005, is subject to historic preservation limitations and would be restricted to "adaptive reuse" development in order reopen its offices, Knopf said.

Knopf and David Barry, senior facilities architect for the county, spoke to 42 developers, brokers, consultants and others at a conference on May 15, after the county entertained requests for qualifications from potential developers, Knopf said.

But the county ended up receiving only two submittals, the Lowe and Gensler plan and one from ROEM Development Corp., a housing complex developer based in Santa Clara, Knopf said.

ROEM withdrew its plans prior to its scheduled interview with the review committee in August, Knopf said.

Other firms decided not to respond for a number of reasons, Knopf said.

Some said that there were better short-term investments in the current economy and that the civic center plan was longer term and investment returns would not come until far in the future, Knopf said.

Others said that the civic center was not a prime location compared other places such as Sunnyvale and Mountain View, Knopf said.

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