“In love with San Jose”: Gary Dillabough’s vision for revitalizing downtown

Baltimore-born venture capitalist Gary Dillabough hasn’t always been involved in development – like many people in Silicon Valley, he worked in the tech industry.

“I was about to quit (eBay) about six or seven years ago and my boss said to me, ‘Hey, listen. I know you care about the environment, I know you care about construction and real estate. We need to have a corporate social responsibility program in place for the company, ”said Dillabough.

Although he eventually left eBay, he took those passions for another job with the real estate company Cornish & Carey. There he met his longtime, like-minded business partner Jeff Arrillaga and settled in an “intriguing” city to develop: San José.

“We built a small fund and bought our first five projects,” said Dillabough. “Now we’re down to about 34”.

Dillabough and Arrillaga’s office in Fountain Alley overlooks one of their flagship projects: a revitalization of the Bank of Italy building.

The Bank of Italy project is part of a new plan to make downtown San José a regional destination with vibrant urban spaces filled with food, drink, comedy and music.

Jeff Arrillaga and Gary Dillabough. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

A community approach

In his youth, Dillabough moved across the country to places like Hawaii and San Bruno while his father worked on projects as a civil engineer. Dillabough received a civil engineering degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He and Arrillaga went on to found Urban Community, their own real estate company focused on buildings in downtown San Jose.

Dillabough has invested in projects such as the Hanging Gardens that will adorn the facade of the 96-year-old Bank of Italy building in the city center. In 2019, he seized 21 properties through Urban Community for more than $ 300 million. That’s as much as Google’s Downtown West project.

The Bank of Italy building in downtown San Jose, one of Gary Dillabough’s projects. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Dillabough and Arrillaga are also co-founders of the Urban Vibrancy Institute with Tony Arreola and Mark Lazzarini. The institute works with local organizations such as the Silicon Valley Organization, SPUR, and the San Jose Downtown Association for programs that include food and art exhibits.

“Our hope is that Urban Vibrancy provides that platform to really bring everyone together to focus on a few initiatives and see if we can get the ball rolling,” Dillabough said.

Silicon Valley Organization CEO Derrick Seaver said Dillabough takes a community approach to what he does in San Jose.

“Instead of focusing on an individual project, he’s talking about activating the downtown area, getting things around the streets and looking at projects holistically,” Seaver said. “Watching how things work together and complement each other to really build the city center. “

This Friday, Urban Vibrancy will launch a weekly art, music, comedy, food and small business exhibit every Friday at Fountain Alley, similar to a monthly arts and culture exhibit in the SoFA neighborhood called First Fridays. .

The two men set their sights on San José because of its many strengths and opportunities.

“It’s not hilly, it’s next to the state of San Jose, you have the airport, you have the sharks,” Arrillaga said of downtown. “You have so much infrastructure in place and I also love historic buildings. You have a mix of historic buildings and new developments. It’s almost an open campus to create something, much easier than a lot of other cities.

And this approach is essential as the city continues to accelerate downtown development through efforts such as Opportunity Zones, parks, skyscrapers and other new construction as the region begins to expand. recover from the pandemic and get back to business.

“The Urban Vibrancy Institute seeks to build on things that already exist and work in the city, and to collaborate with others to move forward, especially towards a clean, safe and vibrant community,” said Eric Glader, Executive Director of Urban Vibrant.

‘Lovers of San José’

Dillabough’s projects are part of its approach to urban development: a bustling downtown area with pedestrian spaces, green spaces, energy efficient buildings, modern architecture, and spaces for local arts and artists.

Urban Vibrancy founders say the region has the perfect combination of tools for building projects: tech companies, clean, pedestrian downtown streets, a burgeoning art scene, small businesses, and the political will to promote Development.

“I spoke to some of these financial partners and asked if they could tell me a city that has better assets lined up like this, and kind of ready to go,” Dillabough said. “When you describe it like that, there is no other city in the country that we believe has the type of asset base that San Jose has.”

Gary Dillabough, Jeff Arrillaga and Eric Glader of the Urban Vibrancy Institute. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Dillabough’s approach to developing the nation’s 10th largest city has earned the respect of insiders and business leaders in Silicon Valley.

“He’s not just a guy trying to build units. He actually thinks more broadly, ”said Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, an economic think tank. Dillabough sits on the Hancock Board of Directors. “The mindset of venture capital, the passion and commitment to sustainability and the desire to make places vital. This is what makes Gary Dillabough so interesting and important to me.

And Dillabough does it all in San Jose.

“Most people, if they’re planners and dreamers, they go to Singapore or Hong Kong. Or if they go to the Bay Area, they go to San Francisco. They see it as their palette, ”Hancock said. “Gary is in love with San José.”

Over the next few years, as the Bank of Italy building undergoes renovations, the urban community buildings complete construction, and Urban Vibrancy launches other art projects, Dillabough believes that the most important elements of the downtown are those who activate the space: the people themselves.

“I really believe part of the ‘secret sauce’ here is the people,” said Dillabough. “What I discovered is that the people who work and live here really care about this city. They have a great kinship with her. They really want to see him succeed. I think it’s different from other cities.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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