City and community leaders Friday celebrated the opening of the San Jose Environmental Innovation Center, heralding a facility they say will promote the city's "green vision" of promoting cutting-edge Earth-friendly policies.
"We put a lot of pieces together to do this project, and it wasn't easy," said Mayor Chuck Reed, addressing a crowd of several hundred officials gathered in the pervious parking lot, which, like most everything else in this former wax paper manufacturing facility has been retrofitted with the environment in mind.
The parade of officials acknowledged the $31-million project's struggles -- it's been in the works since 2006. Splashes from the project's public art installation -- "Watershed" -- punctuated their speech as water sloshed from a diversion tank into a rock-filled trough framed by olive trees.
The Environmental Innovation Center, located at 1608 Las Plumas Ave. off King Road, will house three primary tenants: ReStore, Habitat for Humanity's building materials store and donation center; a household hazardous waste drop-off facility; and Prospect Silicon Valley, which will run a program to help develop clean technology.
The new center sports bird-friendly wind turbines, solar tracking skylights and an irrigation system calibrated with satellite weather tracking.
The project almost collapsed last summer when low-bid builder Applegate Johnston filed for bankruptcy, leaving an unfinished facility and adding $1 million to the city's cost to complete it.
Starting Saturday, shoppers and donors can stock up on reused building materials at ReStore, said Janice Jensen, president of Habitat Humanity in the East Bay and Silicon Valley.
When the hazardous waste facility opens in July, residents on Fridays and Saturdays can drop off hazardous wastes -- including paint, batteries, computers and syringes. Businesses and nonprofits will have access on Thursdays.
The clean-tech innovation center is also expected to open this summer, said Doug Davenport, executive director of Prospect Silicon Valley, which will operate the program.
He expects between 20 and 30 fledgling companies developing technologies for more efficient and Earth-friendly energy and resource use will cycle through the facility each year, each using the facility to bridge a vulnerable period between initial funding and commercialization, Davenport said.
That several-month period, when companies flounder without a major commercial partner, has led some to suggest that Silicon Valley can be the "Valley of Death" for these kinds of startups, said Kim Walesh, a strategist with the city's Environmental Services Department.
Several companies already have plans to use the facility, which will include meeting rooms, shop space and large tools such as a driving simulator, Davenport said.
One of those companies, Arizona-based Eascor, which makes a device to funnel exterior light indoors, is hoping to use the demonstration space to launch into the Bay Area, said salesman Jesse Marquez, as he demonstrated the company's daylight system to passers-by Friday.
City leaders said they expect the center to inject a much-needed boost of economic vitality into a neighborhood known for older warehouses and homes.
"We are in the middle of what is going to be the future of this city," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, a candidate for mayor.
Many officials touted the proximity of a planned Berryessa BART station, which is between Berryessa and Mabury roads.
The building is expected to obtain LEED "platinum" status, the highest level of green building certification available, said Councilman Ash Kalra.
Contact Becky Bach at 408-920-5862. Follow Becky Bach at Twitter.com/troutbach.