San Jose's core is on the verge of a staggering transformation. We talk to some of the minds behind the generational change.
Nabr, one of many new developments in downtown San Jose, will transform the city over the next several years and beyond.
More often than not, life comes down to numbers. So does development in places like San Jose, which, in the next five to 10 years, will undergo a commercial and residential makeover like nothing else in its history. By 2030, there should be 10 million square feet of new office space downtown, with 10,000 residential units.
All of this change is being undertaken by some impressive players, including former eBay vice president and venture capitalist Gary Dillabough, who founded the real estate investment firm Urban Community with longtime Silicon Valley builder Jeff Arrillage in 2017. When talking about the sheer volume of commercial and residential square footage coming to San Jose, Dillabough simply says, “Picture Vancouver, Sydney, Australia, Austin or Copenhagen.”
Gary Dillabough, co-founder of Urban Community
That’s an eye-opening transformation. Along with its partner Westbank Corp., Urban Community has five major projects planned in downtown San Jose, including the Bank of Italy project—think mixed-use urban vibrancy with culinary, beverage, music and comedy options. Other projects include Park Habitat, BoTown, The Orchard and, in the SoFA District, Nabr. We recently caught up with Dillabough to get his take on the exciting months ahead.
You’ve clearly made a big bet on San Jose. What makes you so bullish about this town? The people—they’re humble, innovative, highly successful, hardworking, and they care deeply about their city. [Other advantages] include San Jose State and the billions of dollars of unleveraged infrastructure that the city has invested in the past two decades. This includes a world-class airport, soon to be world-class transportation hub at Diridon Station, museums, theaters and our sports teams, including the Sharks, Earthquakes, San Jose Giants and Barracuda.
The Arbor project slated for downtown San Jose.
How did your background in tech prepare you for what you’re doing with Urban Community? Tech companies recognize that scale is critical. On the other hand, most development projects focus on very narrow objectives, that is, one office building or one residential tower. Our goal is to build an entire ecosystem of office, residential, hospitality and retail. Scale is critical to design, as is creating an effective master plan.
We also try to listen to our end users and solve the problems that they’re wrestling with, as opposed to just building glass boxes throughout the valley. We view ourselves primarily as technologists—not just builders—and we’re continually investing in and weaving new technology into our processes and construction systems. We also do a fair amount of venture investing to understand where the sector is heading.
San Jose’s Park Habitat project
How do you envision the downtown core of San Jose in, say, five to seven years? There should be 10 million square feet of new office space downtown, with 10,000 residential units.
The Google campus will be almost complete, adding another 7 or 8 million square feet to the downtown core. There will be exceptional pedestrian walkways similar to Pearl Street in Boulder. People will walk to work, and their children will go to school in or near the downtown core. You’ll also see lots of outdoor music venues and rooftop decks.
Within a decade, this should be a preferred destination for the kids who grow up here and are currently moving to New York, Texas, Denver and Chicago. We have better companies, weather, places to visit—Napa, Tahoe, Carmel, Santa Cruz and more. Plus, there will be new mobility systems like the digital twin concept that we’re working on with Bjarke and Nvidia [from Nabr] that will create virtual representation.
The Energy Hub project.
You’re the co-founder of the Urban Vibrancy Institute (urbanvibrancy. institute). Why was it so important to get this initiative launched? UVI has a simple mandate: Make the city safer, cleaner, vibrant and more collaborative. These are key ingredients that need to be improved in the downtown core. So, as opposed to talking about it, we created a nonprofit to address it.
We’re looking to bring technology solutions into the downtown core that improve safety and cleanliness, and we’re working with the San Jose Police Department on these initiatives. We’ve also raised more than $850,000 to distribute to workers laid off during COVID, and we’ve delivered 2 million pounds of food to those in need. We’re also hosting Thursday evening concerts from May through September. This should create vibrancy and help local businesses reopen.
One of the most impressive developments downtown is Nabr, which is forging a new path to homeownership in a region where many people are being priced out of the market. Nabr is the first direct-to-consumer housing company of its kind, and the minds behind this venture deliver custom, sustainable apartments, starting with SoFA One in downtown San Jose.
We recently sat down with Nabr’s leadership team—Roni Bahar, CEO; Cara Eckholm, head of growth; Nick Chim, chief technology officer; and Bjarke Ingels, chief creative officer—to learn more about this exciting project.
When you tell strangers what you do for a living at Nabr, what do you typically say?
Roni Bahar: I tell them that I’m part of an amazing team that’s developing a new and improved way of urban living—building the kind of quality of life in cities we all desire. We don’t own real estate, and we optimize for quality, choices and attainability.
What are the big takeaways everyone should know about Nabr in San Jose?
Cara Eckholm: We’re experiencing the worst housing crisis since World War II, and there’s a shortage of quality urban housing that’s being built. Less than 2% of all new homes in the United States are apartments available for sale. As a culture, we focus on building and buying single-family homes, which has led to an affordability crisis and perpetuated suburban sprawl.
America’s housing stock is increasingly undesirable, unattainable and unsustainable. In the Bay Area and in cities across the country, people don’t have many options—either pay high rent for a tiny apartment in the city or buy a home in the suburbs. We want to change that. Nabr’s goal is to put more people on a path to owning a high-quality, environmentally friendly home, and help spur a societal shift toward sustainable urban living.
I love the phrase ‘path to ownership.’ How does it work with the Nabr model, and why is it so important in a community like San Jose?
Nick Chim: The majority of people who move to urban areas don’t own their home. This leads to folks feeling [they don’t belong to their] community; they also can’t begin to create generational wealth for their families. So, many people end up moving to the suburbs. When we own our home, we’re more responsible and responsive to our communities. If we want our cities to thrive, we need quality housing for ownership.
The median home price has reached $1 million in about 500 cities across America. A great home is currently out of reach for most. Nabr’s systems enable us to offer customizable options to fit your needs, taste and finances. A portion of our inventory is available to own through our rent-to-own program. We keep it simple. There’s a small down payment and then you pay rent, earn credits and enjoy the appreciation until you’re ready to move to a traditional mortgage.
Why was San Jose chosen for this project, and how do you think Nabr will enhance the downtown core and SoFA?
RB: If we want more housing, there’s nowhere to go but up. San Jose is best positioned for that in Silicon Valley. The city’s infrastructure, policy, culture and entertainment are undergoing a huge transformation. With more than $30 billion of development investment happening within 2 square miles, San Jose is on its way to become the center of Silicon Valley, making it the best place to launch and create value for our consumers. Silicon Valley is where the best products are born and thrive, and SoFA One is where Nabr starts its journey.
Please tell me a little about the design of these homes.
Bjarke Ingels: Nabr takes a human-centric approach to design and offers highly customizable, sustainable homes that are easily shaped to match different preferences without compromising experiences—high ceilings, natural materials, lots of light, air filtration and water quality. One of our best features is a huge usable outdoor space for almost every unit.
We treat housing like a true consumer product. We’re building soft ware tools to transform the process of how housing is designed, developed and distributed. Our systems and platform approach make the process of finding, designing, financing and living in a home that fits each consumer’s lifestyle a true consumer product experience. Our team is extremely focused on user experience, design and sustainability.
Nabr will allow residents to select their units and customize them through a web-based 3D digital experience. Residents will be able to select different configuration options for their unit, embracing an exceptional variety of designers, who define the Nabr product all the way to fully furnished packages.
And yes, sustainability is central to everything we do. All Nabr buildings are designed to be net-zero with respect to energy use.
What types of amenities can residents expect?
BI: The project features 140 residences with a shared rooftop park, electric-vehicle charging stations, bike and personal storage, community garden, access to wellness and fitness facilities and ground-level retail spaces.
What’s next for Nabr?
CE: We plan to expand throughout the South Bay while also stretching north into the San Francisco and Oakland area. Our long-term vision is to develop more products in different regions that share the same values and vision for sustainable urban living.
Photography by: FIRST FIVE PHOTOS: COURTESY OF URBAN COMMUNITY; REMAINING PHOTOS: PHOTO COURTESY OF NABR