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Fire Ravages Santana Row Complex

LOS ANGELES — As if the dot-com bust hasn’t been enough for San Jose, a fire erupted on Monday afternoon, consuming a "significant portion" of one building at Santana Row, the $500 million retail and housing complex that was supposed to...

LOS ANGELES — As if the dot-com bust hasn’t been enough for San Jose, a fire erupted on Monday afternoon, consuming a “significant portion” of one building at Santana Row, the $500 million retail and housing complex that was supposed to help lift the Silicon Valley out of its economic doldrums.

Between 500 and 1,000 construction workers were rushing to put the finishing touches on the European-style urban mixed-use center at 400 South Winchester Boulevard. The first phase was set to open Sept. 19.

Officials at the San Jose Fire Department said the fire broke out at 3:30 p.m. and eventually consumed most of building seven, one of the nine buildings at the 42-acre complex.

“This is the largest fire anybody can recall in San Jose,” said David Vossbrink, a spokesman for the city’s mayor, Ron Gonzales, noting 200 firefighters were dispatched to the 11-alarm blaze by about 4 p.m. The fire was contained by 6 p.m, he said.

As of Tuesday morning, officials confirmed there were no reported injuries or casualties and all workers and employees had safely evacuated the building.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation and officials may not know what started it for a week to 10 days, according to Kris Warner, director of communications for Federal Realty Investment Trust, the project’s developer.

“We’ve been working on this project for almost four years and to have this happen 30 days before opening is pretty devastating,” she said.

As of press time Tuesday, firefighters were still dousing the smoldering embers.

Santana Row, when completed, will feature 680,000 square feet of specialty stores, restaurants and 1,200 residential units.

The damaged building was the largest of the nine and contained 18 percent of the retail space, 940 retail parking spaces and nearly 50 percent of the center’s residential units.

The majority of the retail tenants in building seven were slated to open Sept. 19. They include Theory, Cole Haan, Ann Taylor Loft, Japanese Weekend Maternity, Footworks, Donald Pliner, Chico’s, X-tra, and several restaurants and a boutique grocery.

Danielle McGarr, a spokeswoman for Theory, confirmed the 1,750-square-foot store was damaged but did not know to what extent. “We’re all in shock,” she said. “We were pushing to get it finished in time, and this was our news today.”

Warner said the there is a team in place to evaluate the damage — estimated by some sources to be in the millions — as well to determine a new date for the opening. “We just need to wait to get more information,” she said. “It’s still too early to tell.”

“[The cost] is big and we estimate it will be a significant number but we couldn’t speculate what it will be,” said Vossbrink.

“We are grateful this fire didn’t result in any loss of life and that it was contained to one building,” said Steve Guttman, chairman and chief executive officer of Federal Realty, in a statement. “At this point, we are evaluating the impact this fire will have on the timing of our opening but remain committed to the successful completion of Santana Row. We are thankful for the support we have received from Mayor Gonzales and the city of San Jose, and the outpouring of encouragement and commitment from our retail tenants.”

Damage to other buildings, where Gucci, Burberry, Bottega Veneta, Escada, St. John and Anne Fontaine are set to be located, couldn’t immediately be learned, but Warner said she the believed they were OK. Ferragamo’s unit, scheduled to open in fall 2003 — the completion date of the second phase of construction — has not yet been built.

It was clear from phone calls to several luxury retailers that news was slow in getting to them on Tuesday. Officials at Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Ferragamo and Escada were not able to respond because they had not yet communicated with Federal Realty.

Meanwhile, the residential aspect of the project suffered most of the damage. “All residential units in this building, which were scheduled to be delivered beginning in January, were destroyed,” Federal Realty said in a statement. The parking spaces were still being evaluated.

Federal Realty carries builder’s risk insurance that officials believe will cover the replacement cost of the damage in addition to liability and rent loss.

Between 100 and 140 residents were displaced Monday evening from nearby homes as a result of a dozen fires started by embers kicked off from flames, sometimes reaching as high as 100 feet.

Bruce Fetter, co-president and chief operating officer of St. John, said he understood that the company’s 5,000 square-foot unit there was unharmed. “We have a real-estate person on her way up there today to take a look,” he said. “From our perspective, we’re more interested in what is the impact on the opening there.”