While it may not seem this way now, St. James Park has a truly bright future. The first reason I believe St. James Park is headed for a significant positive change: Several groups are beginning to coalesce and work together for a common purpose.
The second reason: St. James Park is in an ideal location for a community-wide effort to succeed. Though the park sits in downtown San Jose, its historical roots touch many other parts of the city. President William McKinley spoke in the park over a century ago, but the real connections are to 20th Century politics, including Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez, whose supporters came from throughout San Jose to participate in rallies and listen to speeches. Its urban location also means critical support will be available because of its high-density surroundings.
The third reason for my optimism: St. James Park has a large footprint, and its grand design has always made it a potentially amazing community space. Legendary Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead supposedly gave the park its interactive walkways. Upon first view, the space itself is quite majestic.
The St. James Park Neighborhood Association, Friends of St. James Park, San Jose Downtown Rotary, San Jose Downtown Association, San Jose Parks Foundation, Preservation Action Council and other groups—as well as some very dedicated individuals—are determined to focus the current energy on producing much-needed, long-term changes throughout the park.
There have been amazing results in other cities that can be instructive for San Jose. One proposed project is the Levitt Pavilion. The Levitt Foundation provides substantial funding to build a stage for musical performances in the park. Part of the funding is contingent upon San Jose forming a nonprofit group that will raise additional funds and provide local, community management of the pavilion. The St. James Park Levitt Pavilion would provide at least 50 free concerts annually. There are currently six other Levitt Pavilions in operation in the US.
In New York, I saw the amazing turnaround of Madison Square Park and Bryant Park, both of which formed conservancies—private nonprofit management for the respective parks. Corporate and small business support, individual donations and strategic funding through restaurants and cafés, as well as special tax districts, all provide funding for parks that, in turn, give back to the community. As previously noted, The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park is an example of the kind of success that is possible in St. James Park.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK