The city of San Jose is receiving $1 million from an investment group that is working with the city to create a more vibrant downtown for residents and visitors.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which will disperse the funds over a five-year period, will work with the San Jose Downtown Association to build a center that is “innovative, vibrant, equitable and inclusive,” city leaders said.

“San Jose can learn from shared experiences and challenges during the pandemic to build a city that amplifies our diversity, accelerates our innovation, leverages our history, and builds equity by connecting residents and business owners with those who wish to invest in the city’s future,” said Christopher Thompson, Knight’s San Jose director.

The city and Knight Foundation partnership will use data to provide insight for city planners to better develop the downtown — a project they are calling the Beautiful Tableau.

The main areas of focus: Santa Clara Street from the Diridon Station to City Hall; the areas between the Historic District and South First Area (SoFA); routes to and from Guadalupe River Park; and on Park Avenue between Market Street and Almaden Boulevard.

It will gather information to help fill empty storefronts and enhance merchandising in already existing stores. The partnership also seeks to populate pedestrian paths with favored native plants, identify sites for more public art and establish temporary art on fencing that separates people from large construction projects.

“The definition of ‘tableau’ is a memorable and dramatic image or scene,” said Sarah Billings, San Jose Downtown Association’s street life manager. “We’re inspired to collaborate with our partners to evoke new opportunities downtown for our residents, workers, students and visitors by filling in the spaces between our established districts.”

Small expectations, big dreams

The Beautiful Tableau project will start small with expectations to grow more over the years as the downtown association works with executives, business and property owners, artists, investors, developers and others to gather input on project decisions.

It will build off the two other investments by the Knight Foundation with the San Jose Downtown Association.

One of the investments was a five-year Street Life initiative, completed in June 2020, that eventually turned into a full-time program sustained through the Property Business Improvement. Through the five years, there were several decorative and landscape improvements made in downtown including colorful crosswalks, LED lightning and murals.

“We’re going to make sure we’re ready for the eruption of construction we expect over the next several years.”

Chloe Shipp, San Jose Downtown Association

The other initiative was the MOMENT project that added four ground-floor retail spaces in San Pedro Square in 2018, providing a space for 15 entrepreneurs to test their concepts in a storefront.

“Knight’s support and the leveraging of funds provided by property owners, businesses and City of San Jose resources resulted in a more dynamic downtown environment pre-COVID, which sets the table for the Beautiful Tableau initiative,” Chloe Shipp, SJDA Director of Public Space Operations said.

She continued that with this new initiative, “we’re reaching for a higher bar of excitement and vivacity than we’ve ever experienced.

“We’re going to make sure we’re ready for the eruption of construction we expect over the next several years,” Shipp said.