Meet San Jose’s new downtown manager
Nathan Donato-Weinstein at Ding Tea in downtown San Jose on April 13, 2023. He is San Jose's new downtown manager—a position focused on the downtown core's economic development. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Nathan Donato-Weinstein built his career in downtown San Jose—and now his job is to build the area into the vibrant city center he knows it can be.

    Donato-Weinstein is San Jose’s new downtown manager—a position focused on the downtown core’s economic development. The business journalist turned business development expert in City Hall has been in his current role for seven years, before being tapped for this promotion. He said he’s excited about the possibilities.

    “It’s an honor and a privilege,” Donato-Weinstein told San José Spotlight. “What is super cool about downtown is it’s diverse in all aspects. From a business standpoint you have banking, attorneys, tech and real estate. When you combine that with the cultural and arts amenities, transit and an educational anchor like San Jose State, it’s a recipe for success.”

    Downtown was hit hard when COVID-19 shelter in place mandates took effect in 2020. Longtime businesses shuttered, leaving streets littered with empty restaurants and dark storefronts. Homelessness grew, and restaurants and bars suffered as tech employees went remote. Events such as art shows and business conventions have been slow to return.

    But there has been progress. Sales tax revenue, which plummeted to 38.5% in 2021, has improved by more than 60%. But it’s still down by 14.7% compared to pre-pandemic levels, said Nanci Klein, director of the city’s economic development department. New small businesses like Con Azucar, Mama Kin and Nirvana Soul have filled the spaces that many longtime downtown businesses held. And San Jose has put a concerted effort into hosting more downtown community events to encourage foot traffic.

    “We are now stepping out and working on the issues that in part are the aftermath of the pandemic,” Klein said. “We are working even more closely with partners like San Jose State, the (San Jose) Chamber of Commerce and the San Jose Downtown Association so that we can align resources.”

    Blage Zelalich, current deputy director of economic development, held the role of downtown manager for nearly seven years before her promotion. Klein said while she is an incredible asset, she was pulled in different directions once the pandemic struck, so the downtown manager position has not been at full throttle. She is eager for Donato-Weinstein to take the reigns starting April 24.

    Donato-Weinstein said the focus for the role will shift. He said though San Jose’s downfall can be partly blamed on the new hybrid-work model and reduced business tourism, many of the root problems existed before the pandemic. The city center relied heavily on business employees patronizing local restaurants and retail shops from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    “Around nine to 10 million square feet of office space is (considered a) baby office district relatively, and so downtown was never mobbed with pedestrians,” Donato-Weinstein said. “Turning that ship around is more than just getting office workers back, it means bringing more people to live in downtown.”

    Two residential high-rises were completed this past year, adding 1,522 more homes and more are in the pipeline, Klein said, so things are looking up.

    Mayor Matt Mahan is also excited. He emphasized the need to fill the role in his March budget message, noting downtown recovery is essential to San Jose’s overall success.

    “Nathan Donato-Weinstein will help realize downtown San Jose’s potential as the premier entertainment and cultural destination of Silicon Valley,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We need someone who wakes up everyday thinking solely about downtown’s success, and we’re fortunate to have someone with Nathan’s experience take on this huge responsibility.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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