What the San Jose Downtown Association needs in its new leader

The departure of San Jose Downtown Association executive director Scott Knies in November after 34 years on the job for a few years, but reality finally hits as the business advocacy group launched a formal search for his successor.

The Downtown Association was formed in 1986 essentially as an emergency relief group to keep businesses from dying while the Light Rail Mall and other projects like the Fairmont Hotel, the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and the Pavilion Shops created building nightmares. After Knies was hired in 1988, the Downtown Association also became a promoter, using events like Music in the Park, Downtown Ice, Dine Downtown restaurant week, and the Starlight Cinemas drive-in movie series—for n’ to name a few – to bring residents to the center of town. And you could talk for days about the initiatives launched by the Downtown Association to beautify the downtown area and encourage small businesses.

Knies is going to be hard to follow. He provided a friendly face – even during the mustache years – and a measured voice that worked just as well in city council meetings as from the stage in Cesar Chavez’s Plaza.

In its pitch for a new CEO – the job title has been updated after three decades – the Downtown Association uses all the buzzwords you’d expect: someone who is a “visionary and collaborative leader” and a “a skilled relationship builder” who “brings together and leads diverse stakeholders. It should also be understood that the Downtown Association will make its selection with a diversity and inclusion lens in mind.

But an equally important quality is not stated in the job summary: the person must get San Jose. And San José is complicated.

It’s not San Francisco – and shouldn’t want to be – but neither is it Campbell or Santa Clara. We have a million people here, but foreigners shouldn’t be fooled because it often feels like half of them want to live in a big city and the other half in a small town. Downtown is home to Adobe and Zoom, but its oldest residents remember when everything was surrounded by farmland and canneries and its newer residents may not have been born in this country. We have people living in million dollar condos and homeless encampments just blocks from each other. And the city center must be for each of them.

Downtown San Jose is about to experience more construction chaos with Google and BART heading downtown, but it’s not in the sorry state it was in 1986, in largely through the work of the Downtown Association under Knies’ leadership. So Knies’ successor doesn’t need to be someone who can reinvent the wheel, but maybe someone who can figure out how to fly downtown.

The Downtown Association is accepting applications until April 22 and you can get more information at sjdowntown.com/careers.

PAY AS FOLLOWS: Santa Clara County assessor Larry Stone pledged last year that he would donate the $2,500 ‘hero pay’ bonus given to Santa Clara County employees to nonprofits. profit working with the arts and the homeless. Last week he delivered on that promise last week – and more.

At a dinner party at their Sunnyvale home, Stone and his wife, Carmen Stone, presented checks for $2,500 to HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton and City Lights Theater Company Executive Artistic Director Lisa Briefcase. The Stones matched county money to provide the same amount to both groups.

Stone said the county’s frontline workers who have taken on extraordinary loads during the COVID-19 pandemic deserve to receive the extra pay, a total of $76 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act fund. But he hopes his gesture will encourage others to follow his example. “I think it’s important for some of us, especially those of us who are better paid, to be an example and to support these types of organizations,” he said.

SET THE TABLE: The Italian American Heritage Foundation again marks the traditional St. Joseph’s Table in a non-traditional way on March 18. The celebration of Saint Joseph – the namesake of San Jose – has its roots in Sicily, where people prayed to their patron saint for relief from a famine and farmers filled an altar with food in thanks at its end.

Usually, the Italian American Heritage Foundation would have a Mass followed by lunch at its Heritage Center at 425 N. Fourth St. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members will be handing out the traditional carry-out bag instead – with an orange, role and bean – with another containing pasta and a Sicilian orange salad. A food blessing will take place at 10:30 a.m. in the parking lot, and bags will be given to everyone who stops in front of the heritage house between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The good news is that this leads into a new series of in-person events that will include live cooking demonstrations at the Heritage Center and the return of the Italian Family Festa on August 20-21 at History Park. To verify www.iahfsj.org for updates.

Andrew B. Reiter