Major Changes Coming to San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez

Oliwia Urban 

The San Jose City Council has opened up the possibility for the Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose to undergo a major renovation, one that could see the park become the site of the landmark structure, Breeze of Innovation. The structure is proposed by Urban Confluence Silicon Valley and would be an illuminated landmark that comprises dynamic rods. The Plaza de Cesar Chavez already plays host to some of San Jose’s most popular events, but Steve Borkenhagen, the Executive Director of Urban Confluence, believes that the park has the potential to be an even more spectacular public space, one that would rival great city parks around the world.

The city council has agreed to allow Urban Confluence to investigate using Plaza de Cesar Chavez as the location for Breeze of Innovation. The landmark was originally approved to be built at the Guadalupe River Park’s Arena Green. However, the board of Urban Confluence decided that the proximity to the river presented too many obstacles that were not accounted for in the initial study. Borkenhagen believes that the Plaza de Cesar Chavez is the most significant urban park in San Jose and that it has the potential to be a “gem in the rough”.

Plaza de Cesar Chavez was named after the famed labor leader in 1993. It features iconic fountains and has a prime location across the street from the San Jose Museum of Art and the Signia by Hilton hotel. However, it is underutilized with events scheduled to take place there for only 55 days in 2023, including more than a month just for Christmas in the Park. During a sunny lunch hour on April 20, 2023, there were few visitors in the park.

To make Breeze of Innovation a reality, the park would have to be expanded, potentially eliminating parking and even a traffic lane on Market Street surrounding it. New features could include a new stage at the park’s southern end and others that would honor Cesar Chavez. However, funding for the renovation has not been identified yet, and the city may struggle to finance the project, given that it has other park renovation plans, such as a $65 million renovation plan for St. James Park, and proposals to reimagine Guadalupe River Park.

Dan Pulcrano, the owner of the Weeklys media group, has started the Plaza Conservancy, a nonprofit organization modeled after those that revitalized Golden Gate Park and New York City’s Central Park. Pulcrano has produced or sponsored events in the Plaza since the mid-1980s and believes that the park deserves to be a civic jewel with proper amenities to welcome visitors to the heart of the city.

Although it is unclear when the Plaza de Cesar Chavez renovations will happen, the seeds of change have been planted, and it is hoped that, with proper planning and funding, the park can be transformed into a beautiful, thriving public space that honors the legacy of Cesar Chavez.