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Sharks President on San Jose, Google Plans: “There’s a way to have your cake and eat it too.”



Credit: Dicklyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The San Jose Sharks dropped a bombshell this morning.

In a letter to the fans, the Sharks organization said the city of San Jose and Google’s development projects in the Diridon area of downtown San Jose, which surrounds SAP Center, could force them out of SAP Center and San Jose.

“For the past several years, we have been sharing those same concerns with city of San Jose officials and Google,” the San Jose Sharks wrote. “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.”

Sharks Say City, Google Development Could Force Them Out of San Jose

Shortly after the release of this letter, San Jose Sharks president Jonathan Becher spoke to the media. Here are the highlights from his availability — Becher asserts the Sharks aren’t against Downtown San Jose’s re-development and want to stay at SAP Center. He sheds more light on what the organization’s concerns are with the Diridon Station Area Plan (DSAP) and Google’s plans — and why they “wouldn’t put the blame on Google.”

Becher also pointed out that the Sharks can leave SAP Center in 2025 and feels they’re not the city of San Jose’s “highest priority” right now.

San Jose Hockey Now has reached out to the city of San Jose and is awaiting a statement.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jonathan Becher, on Sharks’ perspective of what’s going on right now:

In general, we’re conceptually supportive of re-development. It’s great to bring more people downtown.

It’s great for new buildings, restaurants, potentially new bars, etcetera.

We’ve got three main areas of concern. There’s lots of technicalities in there, but I’ll high level them for you.

The first is, by these reports themselves, they’re going to increase the number of trips of the people to the neighborhood to this area by at least seven times, maybe as much as 20 times more.

There’s roughly 19,000 people a day, they go in and out of Downtown West, as it’s called, and that number is going to go to at least 140,000 and maybe as many as 300,000.

And yet, the street network is being reduced in half.

A simple example which you can visually see in the e-mail [to San Jose Sharks fans] if you click on it: Santa Clara Street, that main thoroughfare that goes through downtown and past our building — right now, it’s four lanes, two lanes for cars in each direction. It’s getting shrunk down to one lane in each direction, the rest being done for bicycles and scooters and people walking and stuff like that.

There are other road changes as well, and so our biggest concern is with a 7 to 20x increase in people coming — not just Google, but BART, Caltrain modernization, potentially high-speed rail. Other developments that are happening.

How are people going to get here?

If you live in Los Gatos, for example, you can’t take public transportation to get here. There’s no way to get here. If you live in South San Jose or Morgan Hill or on the peninsula on the 280 side. We believe in the future of mass transportation, but it’s not yet systemic here in the Bay Area. So some large fraction are still going to be car visits for the foreseeable future.

So big question: How are people going to get in and out?

Secondarily, if they do manage to get in and out, we’re unsure where they’re going to park. The plan says that roughly 60,000 people, new people, are going to be based here. Google workers, support infrastructures, the other buildings etcetera. And yet only 2,800 or so [parking] spots are being committed to being built for those 60,000. It could be as many as 5,000 spots, but not more.

That will make this area less parking available than there is in Madison Square Garden in New York City. And we already know that there are parking issues around BARTs elsewhere in the Bay Area. You’ve all read or seen the articles about BART in Dublin and BART in Orinda, where people are parking on other people’s lawns or double parking or in the mall et cetera.

Also remember we lost the Safeway in downtown San Jose because there’s not enough parking as well.

And then finally, there are up to four major construction projects. Again, Google, BART, Caltrain train modernization and maybe high speed rail, and then a lot of smaller projects as well, all happening in the roughly same 20-year period. Zero coordination between them.

So imagine extra road closures while people are trying to get in. Imagine the dump trucks that are going to be backed up. All that’s going to happen. There’s going to be a massive yellow tape, do not cross construction zone along all four sides of the SAP Center.

So we’re, frankly, freaked out on behalf of our fans. We don’t know how they’re going to get here, because it’s not like they can all walk. They come from all over Northern California. It’s not just hockey. This is concerts as well, right? We do roughly 175 events a year.

But if they can’t get here, and they can’t park if they do manage to get here, then they’re not going to come. And that just means the arena can’t survive.

My sense is everyone’s hoping that someone will figure this out. The city will eventually figure this out. But to use an old phrase that’s used often, hope isn’t a strategy.

Becher, on how the city of San Jose has reacted to the San Jose Sharks’ concerns:

They are quite sympathetic when we talk to them. We’ve been having this conversation for multiple years. They understand our concerns. But in the end of the day, actions speak louder than words, and nothing has changed.

[They say they] don’t want to jeopardize the SAP Center, but they just haven’t done the work to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Which is odd to me, because a single Sharks game, a mid-week game, generates more than $2 million dollars of economic impact — not for us, but for downtown, for restaurants, for bars, for hotels, et cetera. The number the city provides themselves is we generate an extra $250 million-plus per year.

I know they don’t want that $250 million to disappear. I mean, we put money directly in the city general fund.

Becher, on the Sharks’ lease with SAP Center:

In August of 2018, we signed the extension and the extension does take us to 2040. Transparently, we contractually agreed to stay to 2025. And we have the unilateral right to to extend to 2040. So we’re not technically obligated between 2025 and 2040.

Have said that, I’m not threatening. We want to stay.

We’re the only professional sports team in the Bay Area not to have moved. We don’t want to move. This is our building.

We’ve invested more in the building since it opened than it cost to build. We don’t do that because we make money at doing that. We do that because it’s a public good.

And frankly, we have informal plans to invest that much again.

But it’s not clear to me why we’d go through 20 years of pain and construction if people can’t get here when it’s all done.

Becher, on if things can be worked out with the city of San Jose and Google:

I’m still an optimistic person. Our fans love us so much. You could easily argue we’ve had more economic impact on San Jose than any other institution since we got here in ’93.

But we’ve been unpleasantly surprised on a couple of things in the last year. The biggest one was the reduction in the street network. That wasn’t something we expected at all. That was sort of sprung on us.

So in that point of view, it’s gotten worse. I mean, originally, they were going to have five million square foot of office. Now it’s 15 million.

While our conversations with Google have gone pretty well…I wouldn’t say perfectly, we haven’t gotten everything we wanted…but I think we’re in good discussions with them, which will continue for some time. We haven’t really gotten where we needed to go with the city.

Becher, on the Sharks potentially leaving San Jose:

We’re going to fight to stay here until they make it impossible for us to stay.

It would have to be something terrible to happen for us to get kicked out in 2025.

You pick the date. It may not be then, it may be later than that. But yes, if nothing changes, it becomes inevitable at some point in the future.

Becher, on the city of San Jose “catering” to Google more than the Sharks:

I wouldn’t put the blame on Google. I think that’s unfair.

It does feel that we’ve invested a ton in the city. And we’ve always had a fantastic relationship with the city. You’ve seen lots of sports teams in North America demand things, and we’ve never done that. We’ve had a very good relationship for the last 30 years.

But we’re getting to the point of we can’t get much further. This is sort of a culmination of many years of talks without much result.

It would seem that we are not the highest priority. I’ll agree with you there.

But again, just to remind you that I’m optimistic and we’re optimistic.

We’re still investing in the arena, right? We built a new ice plan. We ripped up 30 years of concrete.

You don’t do those things if you’re expecting to leave quickly, right?

So we’re heads down, trying to build — and it’s spending our money, it’s not the city’s money — to make this the best possible arena we can. We do believe we can get a lot of lifespan out of this thing, But we hope we’re not squeezed out.

Becher, on San Jose Sharks owner Hasso Plattner’s thoughts on situation:

He’s fully up to speed, and he said, “Find a way to work this out with the city. I’d like to stay. Leaving is the last resort.”

Becher, on if Sharks have considered where they might move to:

It’s not something I’ve done yet. I guess at some point in the future, I will have to do that. There’s not a lot of open real estate in Silicon Valley, as you guys know.

Finding, building, and doing that as witnessed with our friends at the 49ers and the Warriors is probably a 10-year project. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Becher, to the proponents of DSAP and Google’s re-development plans:

We want that too. We would love having a vibrant downtown with lots of new buildings and restaurants, et cetera. That’s good for us.

There’s a way to have your cake and eat it too. We can have both.

We can still have all this development, but have four lanes of Santa Clara. It doesn’t have to have two. We can still have all this development and a parking garage or two also built. We can have all this development and have someone create a master plan so they’re not all happening simultaneously.

This development can happen. Re-development is good. It just needs to be planned more. We’re not anti it. We’re for it, just in a slightly different way than is currently scheduled.

Becher, on city of San Jose’s timeline:

Well, at some point this draft [plan] becomes a de facto. That could happen as soon as the first half of next year. It becomes harder and harder to change some of those things.

Is there ever a point of absolutely no return? Probably not. It just gets harder and harder.

I think by the end of 2021, this will be decided one way or another.

I think a lot of these decisions, politically, will be discussed in the next four months. One way or another, there are several opportunities [to talk about it] in November, December, and January. We encourage people to do that.

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