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Keynote: Lew Wolff At Bisnow’s Silicon Valley State Of The Market

Perhaps no one deserves more credit for the revitalization of San Jose than Lewis Wolff. A developer for more than 50 years, Wolff has overseen the creation of offices and hotels in a city that has often been overlooked, despite its size. Now, as the major downtown heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is finally coming into its own. 

Wolff also has a lifelong involvement with sports ownership. Though he sold his stake in the Oakland Athletics in 2016, he still serves as chairman emeritus for the team and is the co-owner of the San Jose Earthquakes, the city’s Major League Soccer team.

Keynote: Lew Wolff At Bisnow’s Silicon Valley State Of The Market
Lew Wolff with the late Art Savage, former president of the San Jose Sharks, in 2009

Some of Wolff’s most iconic San Jose properties, 300K SF of offices at CityView Plaza, are now slated for demolition and replacement, but Wolff thinks that’s a good thing. Read on to get his take and for a preview of what Wolff will be speaking about at Bisnow’s Silicon Valley State of the Market on Feb. 25 at the Westin San Jose. Register here.

Bisnow: Our event next week is about the future of Silicon Valley. How would you characterize that future?

Wolff: I feel that at least in downtown San Jose, everything that I and others have been working for since the late '60s and early '70s seems to be happening right now. It’s moving from a fragmented set of properties into a real downtown.

The most significant thing happening downtown is Adobe’s new building. To see it become real and grow out of the ground bodes well for the next decade and for companies like Google as well as all the developers looking at the market. All those announcements have strong implications for the future.

Bisnow: What role do you think density is going to play in the future of San Jose?

Wolff: San Jose is the 10th-largest city in the nation, but it has the smallest downtown for a city of its size. The city developed horizontally, rather than vertically, but compaction is the key to a good downtown, not expansion. The proper place for density is in the core area, especially around nodes of transportation. 

There is definitely a fear of density in the suburbs, but I think it’s wrong to be anti-density. We should be encouraging density. I think there’s plenty of room downtown for 10M SF more of office space and multifamily residential and condominiums. 

Bisnow: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Silicon Valley market?

Wolff: The cost of homes and apartments is very concerning. We have to do some creative thinking about how to encourage more homes and more density around the core area of San Jose.

One of the main issues is NIMBYism, and people who hold up development over nickel-and-dime issues, like historical significance. If a property really is historically significant, that’s fine, but if a claim of historical significance is just a way to slow down politicians and development, I have a problem with that. I don’t think many people are flying into San Jose just to go admire the historic buildings.

Bisnow: What do you feel about this new generation of development happening in San Jose?

Wolff: I think what Jay Paul is doing at Cityview is the best thing that’s happening in the whole market. I believe that great civilizations are built on top of each other. As much as I invested my career into these projects that he is now tearing down, I applaud him for that. He’s going to make it a fantastic neighborhood, a real downtown where when you walk around the streets during the day, you’re going to see whole groups of people where you once saw nobody.

I think the real key is going to be bringing in corporate uses and office space. Everything follows from that. It creates so many jobs and opportunities for so many people. I don’t know why people get so agitated from new companies in town. 

Bisnow: What is one thing you would change about the Silicon Valley market?

Wolff: Sometimes it feels as though the process has become the purpose, instead of the end product. So many people make money and careers just off the process of development, which has become more and more complicated. We need to accelerate development. The easier it is to move projects along, the better.

Our new construction project in downtown Oakland, we got it entitled and moving forward in just over a year, that was not terrible. San Jose is pretty cooperative, but we can always accelerate it. The goal should be simplicity, and cities should measure themselves by how many groundbreakings they have. 

Bisnow: Do you think public-private partnerships will help encourage development?

Wolff: Everything is a partnership with the public, whether you like it or not. Why not join together? My hope is that the public starts to see the good in these projects. It’s more important to see what’s right with it than to point out what’s wrong with it. 

Join us at at Bisnow’s Silicon Valley State of the Market on Feb. 25 at the Westin San Jose!