Guest View: Foundation leader tells history with 400 block

The grassy lot on the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets may become a central plaza.

As a result of the strong and passionate voices we have heard from the community, I would like to provide you with more insight on how we got to where we are today in planning for a new Philanthropic Center for San Benito County, a lasting home for the Community Foundation, as well as a hub for charitable collaboration—convening diverse voices to address local issues and opportunities.
In the beginning of 2014, the Community Foundation’s Finance Committee presented the advantages and disadvantages of owning our own building. While still a relatively new foundation, we steward nearly 100 funds, most of them perpetual endowments—funds that will be available to local nonprofits for generations to come. As a permanent resource for permanent charitable giving, it only makes sense to have a permanent home.
We recognize the need to grow, better serve our community, and continue to enhance the quality of life in San Benito County through philanthropic activities. Since its inception, the Community Foundation has always been in the heart of Hollister. The board believes that the support of downtown businesses and organizations adds value to the synergy of San Benito Street. With this in mind, we began our search for a new location in downtown Hollister.
By mid-2014, the search was in full force: we met with the owner of the empty lot at Seventh and San Benito Streets, we inquired about the property next to Fourth Street and Felice Drive, and looked into the office building at 335 San Benito St., formerly the Stephens & Poletti Building.  Over the span of 10 to 12 months, we considered these locations, as well as two other empty lots and two existing buildings, but the owners of the property were not interested in selling or the property did not meet our long-term goals.
In the development of our search for a new location, an anonymous donor joined us for each subsequent site visit to provide professional advice (pros and cons). With each potential site, we began to feel a bit discouraged about the reality of having our vision come to life. By this time it had been a year since we introduced the idea to our board, and while remaining pragmatic, we understood the challenge ahead. As we toured a historic home on Sixth Street, our goal seemed to be revived. After exploring the site, the donor and I both agreed that this building would be most ideal for our immediate needs. It is located in downtown, is spacious enough to achieve our goals, and has a cozy appeal.
As I was settling in with this new location, the donor helped to reaffirm and strengthen our endeavor for a Philanthropic Center by sharing the following opinion: although the Sixth Street location would fit our immediate needs, we should aim higher. We should give the community a vision. We should build a center that will truly stand the test of time. We should build a sustainable, efficient, eco-friendly, low-maintenance building that gives nonprofits more opportunities for growth. This type of project sounded very expensive, and of course, if we had all the money in the world, we would aim for this kind of building. The donor said genuinely and humbly, that it would be a privilege and great honor to build a Philanthropic Center, incur all financial costs, and gift the building to the Community Foundation for the benefit of San Benito County residents.
In order to learn more about Philanthropic Centers, we researched Community Foundations that have expanded their services, like Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. In 2010, they built a green, sustainable building, “The Jack & Peggy Baskin Philanthropic Center”, reaffirming their vision and marking the beginning of a new era for philanthropic services in their community. Currently, the new building in Santa Cruz serves as a resource center by offering workshops, technical assistance for online grants, and much-needed space for nonprofit organizations to hold events. The center received over 7,500 visitors last year.
The Community Foundation for San Benito County aligned their views with the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County in terms of forward thinking for our own community. Downtown strives to be the “third place” in people’s lives, an environment for social activity, and a Philanthropic Center sounded like the perfect fit—all we needed was a place to build. We were inspired by the Philanthropic Center in Santa Cruz, and our criteria for a new location expanded.
Shortly thereafter, in November of 2015, the City of Hollister issued and distributed a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the sale of property (two parcels) located at the southwest corner of Fourth and San Benito streets (400 Block), property currently owned by the former Redevelopment Agency and required to be sold. The RFP was distributed to more than 40 developers and several articles about the development of the 400 Block were published in the local newspapers.
The Community Foundation inquired about the property with city staff and learned about the requirements and constraints in relation to our vision. The parcel south of Briggs Alley has the opportunity to provide everything we envision for a Philanthropic Center (i.e. gathering space, parking, and square footage). The Community Foundation was interested in submitting a proposal, but we did not need both parcels for our project.
After our meeting with the city, we learned that Del Curto Brothers, a local construction company, was also interested in submitting a proposal to the City of Hollister to construct a new keystone commercial project as outlined in the RFP. We felt that this was the answer to the Community Foundation’s problem—allow Del Curto Brothers to take the lead on the project and develop both parcels, including a privately funded Philanthropic Center south of Briggs Alley. After a short meeting, our donor, Del Curto Brothers, and the Community Foundation all agreed that this was a perfect solution.
A concept (guide for more detailed planning) for the 400 Block was submitted by Del Curto Brothers to the City of Hollister. On Monday, May 2, 2016, City Council voted 4-0 (Mayor Ignacio Velasquez abstained) in favor of the project. Residents of the community who advocated for open space during the City Council meeting, and after the council’s decision, represent a strong, courageous, and passionate voice about the development of this area. Admirably, a community that cares deeply about the social environment and economic impact in San Benito County has allowed us to reflect and think critically and profoundly about the actions we take as we move forward with this project.
I hope this letter sheds some light on the road that led to our proposal for a new Philanthropic Center for the benefit of San Benito County. We strongly believe in the value of a Philanthropic Center that serves as a charitable hub, houses nonprofit organizations, provides conference rooms, and an outdoor gathering place for events. A Philanthropic Center that is located in the heart of Downtown Hollister, will stimulate economic growth and increase philanthropic services in San Benito County. As a result of the process thus far, we will be looking at ways to broaden our communication with the community. We understand some of you may have questions. I invite you to contact me at (831) 630-1924 or stop by the Community Foundation office—I would be more than happy to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you.
The Community Foundation is looking forward to working with the community to build a Philanthropic Center for San Benito County, a place that will bring people together with common ideas for good … forever!
Gary Byrne is CEO of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, involved in exclusive talks to buy the 400 block from the City of Hollister.

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