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Business leader sees a bright future in downtown San Jose


Joseph Geha, San Jose Spotlight

January 23, 2023

From Germany to the City of Angels, the largest small city in the world and now the heart of Silicon Valley, Alex Stettinski has seen many downtowns and thinks he can help rebuild San Jose.

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The new head of the San Jose City Center Association has about four months under his belt after taking over the reins from Scott Knies, who has led the organization for more than three decades. Nice retired last fall.

“I see opportunities around every corner. I also see problems on many street corners,” Stettinski told the San José Spotlight.

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Many of the problems the area is facing are not new – the city center has been affected by empty windows and decay for years and has long been bearing the brunt of the region’s homelessness crisis.

But Stettinski says his outside perspective could be a boon for the region as he grapples with his own problems. He’s not the only newcomer working on these issues, as San Jose welcomes new mayor Matt Mahan and new city council member Omar Torres.

“That’s what gives me hope. It’s a fresh start with new people in leadership positions,” Stettinski said. “People who are really interested in making a difference and making changes for the good of society, without having all this political baggage. I hope the baggage doesn’t sneak up on them.”

Stettinski was born in Geneva, Switzerland and raised in Germany. He attended the University of Göttingen and then moved to the University of California, Berkeley around 1990 to complete a degree in comparative religion and art. He continued to work in teaching, public relations, and fundraising for schools before finding his calling to help improve business districts. He started in West Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles and eventually ended up at the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.

After a months-long hiring process and search for a new CEO, the Downtown San Jose Association hired Stettinski from Reno, Nevada, where he has served since 2018 as chief CEO of the Downtown Reno Partnership, a business improvement district.

Alan “Gumby” Marquez, current chairman of the board of the San Jose Downtown Association, said Stettinski won the council’s favor with his extensive experience in the field and an outsider’s perspective that highlights the potential of downtown San Jose.

“Someone who has that kind of vision that reminds us of why San Jose is great from a new perspective is extremely important,” Marquez told the San José Spotlight. “Sometimes when you’ve been around for a while, when you’re in the process, you get a little stuck in the weeds.”

Stettinski said he believes downtown San Jose, like other city centers across the country, is transforming from a business center to a combination of housing and business, which will help spur improvements, activity and retail as more people begin to live. in this district.

San Jose Downtown Association CEO Alex Stettinski was hired in October 2022. Photo by Joseph Geh.

Next steps for San Jose

San Jose already has thousands of downtown-approved homes that are under construction but not built yet. Stettinski is confident that these projects will come to fruition, along with other major catalyst projects such as the Google Downtown West development and BART’s downtown expansion.

“When I go out in the evenings, there are people on the street, the places are crowded, people go out, take drinks and go to restaurants,” Stettinski said. “But during the day it is still very quiet. And that’s something that I think will (change) over time.”

Another challenge for downtown San Jose will be the cultural shift associated with returning to the office. While workers seem to appreciate the flexibility of remote work, Stettinski doesn’t think companies will completely move away from in-person work.

“Many companies cannot be as efficient as possible if all of their staff is simply remote,” Stettinski said. “The interaction with each other, the dynamics, the teamwork that you create when you sit in the same space, after all, cannot be replaced.”

But the potential return of workers to offices, BART, Google, and thousands of new homes could take a decade. Stettinski said the San Jose Downtown Association needs to work with leaders and business owners to create a vibrant environment in the short term.

“We can’t just fill vacancies, it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a long process,” Stettinski said. “But what we can do is lighting, we can make the decline, we can improve the façades, we can just improve the look of our downtown.”

A Groundwerx worker on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. Photo by Joseph Geh.

The association — with its roughly $8 million annual budget funded by fees collected from downtown businesses and properties — has for years helped fund Groundwerx, a team of workers who wear orange and clean up graffiti, trash and wash under pressurized sidewalks and squares.

The association is also spending about $40,000 to develop a new downtown lighting plan, which is still under review. The plan could cost millions, but Stettinski said it could be the key to making downtown safer and more attractive to business owners and visitors.

Stettinski has been named to the mayor’s downtown transition task force and said he’s already seeing strong collaboration between Mahan, Torres, real estate developers and others who want downtown to thrive.

“We are all looking at it with fresh eyes,” he said. “We see what everyone sees, but we scream about it. We name things and say, “What can we do that hasn’t been done yet?” Or, if it has been done, perhaps we should try again with fresh energy.”

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