SoFA District Experiencing a Transformation

By Josh Russell


Hard-hat energy is applied to the installation of planters and the creation of sidewalk extensions for San Jose’s Sofa District.

The end of June marked the official completion of year one of 1stACT Silicon Valley‚Äôs SoFA (South of First Street) implementation plan. This plan is in collaboration with a key group of SoFA leaders, the Redevelopment Agency, City of San Jose, San Jose Downtown Association, and Ken Kay Associates. This activation plan is a demonstration project from 1stACT’s vision for the future of Downtown San Jose based on a framework of “big deals” and “small wonders”.


Parallel parking makes room for planters in “bulb-outs” without the loss of parking spaces.

“The SoFA area is demonstrating a series of “small wonders” that significantly improve downtown,” said Connie Martinez, Managing Director and CEO of 1stACT Silicon Valley. “Once completed, our hope is to build on the success of an important three block area in downtown and transform other areas of Downtown San Jose.”


Sidewalk extensions and planters in front of Agenda create an agreeable outdoor dining space. New SoFA signage keeps pedestrians updated on events.

With more than a year on the books, it feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what has been completed and look ahead to what is in store for the infamous three-block area in Downtown San Jose.


Outdoor activity in front of OJ’s and Caffe Trieste is now a constant since the completion of amenities in front of the restaurants on Block one of the SoFA Project.

Year one saw the completion of a number of physical changes and enhancements including:

– Sidewalk extensions on the first block

– Planters and plantings on all three blocks

– Mural completion on the second block

РSidewalk cafes for Café Trieste and Original Joe’s

– Tree lighting on all three blocks

РNew retail including Downtown Yoga Shala, Café Trieste, Heroes Martial Arts Studio, San Jose Glass Art Alliance and the new home of Cinequest and Left Coast Live


Murals help to announce SoFA as an Arts District.

In addition, we are nearing the completion of the installation of bike racks and a SoFA mural on the back of Wet Night Club is now up.

“We have a lot of ideas for programming, including improving collaboration with schools and arts groups,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the Downtown Association. “Basically, the idea is for visitors to SoFA to know that something has changed since they were last there, and that they will see something new on their next visit.”

Examples of ways in which SoFA is already being activated include the recent San Jose Jazz Festival where, for the first time ever, a “Jazz Beyond” stage was positioned in SoFA. In addition, SoFA has seen recent activity as part of the SubZERO Festival, inaugural Left Coast Live, and the South First Friday art walks with summer street markets.


Expanded greenery on both sides of the street, especially in block one of the SoFA Project, transforms a once-seedy area.

“The streetscape improvements, the addition of several new businesses, along with the building upgrades and new (Three-Sixty Residences) high-rise are changing the face of SoFA toward a more mature arts and entertainment district,” said Richard Berg, SoFA Committee co-chair and property owner.

As we move into plans for year two, there are a number of items that will continue to enhance SoFA such as:

– Banners on all three blocks

– Artistic street print on crosswalks

– Mural project in the parking lot under Hwy 280

– Sidewalk extensions on blocks two and three


Tree lighting, year-round, helps sustain a festive atmosphere in SoFA, on into the evening.

“South First Street looks better than ever,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. “The recently completed mural, the sidewalk extensions, the restaurants that have expanded outside, the lighted palm trees, and all the pots and foliage are the result of a collaborative effort that started with the SoFA businesses, our friends at 1stACT Silicon Valley, the Downtown Association, and some city and Redevelopment Agency folks. All of this is being done to enhance the pedestrian experience. We can slow down cars, get people out on the streets enjoying all the wonderful visual and performance arts, food, coffee, and character we have on the street.”

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