Fountain Alley looking up

sharksA number of community groups have joined business and property owners in a series of projects aimed at positioning Fountain Alley as a social center linking the National Register Historic District with a burgeoning maker district.

“Fountain Alley’s on the upswing,” said SJDA President Stan Vuckovich. “The scruffy guys who used to hang out there just aren’t around anymore.”
In just a few weeks, businesses and residents have noticed changes.

“The alley has been completely clear the past three weeks,” said Ryan Bettencourt, an employee at Tangerine Hookah. “Something is definitely going in the community’s favor.”

Bettencourt has seen a dramatic increase in the hookah lounge’s afternoon clientele, he said.

“The alley is already more colorful and cleaner,” said Artur Urbanski, who works from his home overlooking Fountain Alley in The Globe. “It is nicer to walk through now.”

A flurry of recent events has made an impact:

  •  A police services office opened in the former Destiny’s Attic space at 30 E. Santa Clara St., Suite 170, in the center of Fountain Alley. San Jose Police Foundation is paying the rent, but the shared space is for SJPD, Santa Clara Sheriffs’ deputies, San Jose State University police and Groundwerx Secondary Enforcement Unit (SEU) officers to do paperwork, take breaks and gather for briefings. It is a low-profile space without a sign, but officers on foot patrol are coming and going with regularity. “They have already driven out a lot of the crime in the area,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez.
    “Fountain Alley now has bookends – The Tech Shop on one end and Local Color on the other – two active spaces.”Stan Vuckovich, SJDA president
  • The Sharks Foundation donated $20,000 to support a beautification project to dress up the alley on April 25 and ongoing crime prevention efforts. Volunteers stenciled sharks onto freshly repainted and replanted pots, streamed teal and white lights and flags overhead and picked up litter. Sharks Executive John Tortora stressed the importance of supporting downtown, adding the foundation has also given recently to flood relief efforts, The Tech and Downtown College Prep. “Fountain Alley has been too-long-neglected, so we approached the best partner we could find,” said Chuck Hammers, president of the downtown Property-Based Improvement District.
  •  Local Color on First Street and TechShop San Jose on Second Street have activated formerly vacant spaces (see sidebar story), adding to the positive energy around Fountain Alley. Also, WeWork, Next Space, Founders Floor, Pure Matter and other businesses are all just steps away, collectively forming the foundation for a maker’s district of creative types and entrepreneurs.
  • Industrial design students at San Jose State University led by Assistant Professor Leslie Speer and supported by SJDA Street Life Manager Jason Su are designing and producing temporary prototypes that show how Fountain Alley can be improved and activated. They focused on seating, stages, mobile solar hubs and lighting, and gardens.
  • Students explained their objectives:
    “We want to create a community, not just bring in a community,” said Alex McFadden. “That means creating a home for arts and design.”

“In terms of solving the problems, we consider the human senses and aesthetic, and modernizing the aesthetic,” said Shafik Huffman.

“We want to encourage interaction and create a technological destination,” said Kenneth Gordon.

“Many changes are still to come and will be part of the Fountain Alley future,” Urbanski said.

For example, Exhibition District announced plans for 100 artists to create 100 mini-murals in a mosaic pattern on the alley. These murals will join the “Phylum of the Free” mural on the Lido wall that “put eyes on Fountain Alley” last year.

“This is the best I’ve seen Fountain Alley look,” said Groundwerx landscaping consultant Kathy Finley.

With momentum building, the vision for Fountain Alley is starting to form around creating a central meeting space for the maker community.

“In Silicon Valley, the best private spaces for employees on tech campuses gain the competitive advantage,” said Nate Echeverria, SJDA director of policy and operations. “We’re going to do the same thing here, but in a public way. We won’t stop until we create the best space for our community, a place where ideas can meet.”