Rebuilding for a badly burned Santana Row

Exactly one month before it was to open, Federal Realty Investment Trust’s Santana Row project in San Jose, California, suffered a massive fire that destroyed its centerpiece building, covering a city block. The August 19 fire, the largest in the city’s history, wiped out a six-acre, four-story building that contained 36 shops in various stages of construction, 242 luxury apartments and townhouses, and a health club.

Embers landed on roofs of buildings in the adjacent Moorpark neighborhood, igniting fires that destroyed an apartment complex. Sited where the former Town and Country Shopping Center previously stood, Santana Row is envisioned to have 1,200 residences (with rents from $1,800 to $15,000 a month), 680,000 square feet of retail space, and a 213-room hotel. Federal announced that it would rebuild.

There has been debate both locally and among New Urbanists nationally about whether the location — three miles from a downtown that in recent years has received enormous public investments, including rail transit — is the right spot for a 42-acre, $500-million retail development. Barbara Marshman, an editor at the San Jose Mercury-News and a Knight Fellow in Community Building, says, “My personal take on Santana Row is that its main street would make a gorgeous new urbanist statement — it’s simply fabulous — but it’s essentially all private, the stores are all high-end, and the housing is all rental and all super expensive.”