Venture capitalist bringing green to downtown San Jose
The Bank of Italy building in downtown San Jose. Gary Dillabough bought the building in 2017 for $27 million. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

The 96-year-old Bank of Italy building in downtown San Jose is one of the area’s most recognizable structures—a relic of Rennaisance Revival architecture in the middle of modern high rises.

Soon, venture capitalist real estate developer Gary Dillabough, 58, will add a series of hanging gardens to the building’s facade.

“We’re hoping to leverage experiences and bring some of that design eye to San Jose,” Dillabough said.

Gary Dillabough. Photo courtesy of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

On Tuesday, Dillabough addressed a roundtable hosted by Joint Venture Silicon Valley about downtown’s future, including the developments he and business partner Jeff Arrillaga purchased in the last decade.

“It’s clear that the city is poised for a major makeover. Gary Dillabough is the heart and center of all of that,” said Russ Hancock, president and chief executive officer of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. “His passion is community.”

Dillabough, a former vice president at eBay, purchased several downtown developments over the years, and by 2019 he snatched up 21 properties through his firm Urban Community for more than $300 million. That’s as much as Google’s Downtown West project.

He said his goal is to integrate eco-driven architecture, housing and sustainable buildings into car-heavy San Jose, mixing in art and public space. The plans have also taken efforts to preserve some of the historical aspects of the development, something that Mountain View Councilmember and former San Jose city planner Alison Hicks praised.

“Some people think they compete with each other, but I think they compliment each other,” Hicks said of historic preservation with modern buildings. “We’re not just throwing the city away and starting anew.”

Over the past few years, Urban Community partnered with Vancouver-based real estate developer Westbank to revitalize or construct a group of five skyscrapers with massive hanging gardens and green space, including the Bank of Italy building and Park Habitat, a 20-story tower with 928,000 square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of Tech Museum expansion space, about 8,400 square feet of retail and 482 new parking spaces formerly known as Museum Place. The project is still under development.

All of the projects are in various stages of planning, but Dillabough hopes the San Jose City Council approves all his projects by the end of the year.

Park Habitat, a proposed office building at 180 Park Ave., where Parkside Hall currently sits. Image courtesy of the city of San Jose.

Dillabough’s working with various development partners to get his projects ready to break ground. He estimates he will need another $3 billion to $4 billion in investment.

“For people to really feel connected to San Jose, it’s going to be important to allow people to have ownership,” Dillabough said.

What that means, he said, is envisioning the ability for residents to be able to walk to work and send their children to school near where they work. Affordable housing, retail and residential space and walkable streets are part of the plan, along with a smaller carbon footprint for residents and greener projects.

Gary Dillabough, second from the left. File photo by Katie Lauer.

Santa Clara Councilmember Suds Jain asked Dillabough about affordable housing and how Dillabough planned on having denser construction to place more affordable units in his projects.

“We can’t get them (developers) to do… higher density because it doesn’t pencil out,” Jain said about development in Santa Clara.

Dillabough responded, hoping that his projects could contain units that are in the low- to moderate-income range, or those with an annual income of approximately $100,000 to $153,000 for a family of four, according to the city’s latest income numbers.

Urban Community is working with several land-use firms, including Snider Consulting, to bring the projects to reality. Dillabough said Tuesday he hopes to complete the majority of projects within seven years, with full completion within 10 years.

“If you’re protecting this city or building this city and you can’t live in this city, there’s something wrong with that equation,” Dillabough said. “We want people to want to be involved in the construction and development in San Jose.”

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

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