It’s been 31 years since the corner of San Benito and Fourth Streets was occupied by something other than an empty grass lot.
However, Gary Byrne, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, along with Rebecca and Randy Wolf on Sept. 22 officially kicked off a $5.5 million project that will bring in a new philanthropic center known as the Epicenter.
“The community needs meeting space, we have to have a conference center, we have to have a place where we can meet and gather and have an outdoor area,” Byrne said.
A construction crew broke ground on Sept. 5 at the corner of San Benito and Fourth Streets—known as the “400 block”—for the Epicenter, which was named in recognition of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The Wolf family donated $5.5 million to pay for the land and the cost of construction.
The project also includes a second three-story building that will include retail shops on the first floor and 22 condominiums split up on floors two and three.
Byrne said there isn’t a single penny of local, state or federal money going into the project and when it’s all said and done it’ll be a $17 million investment of private money.
“What a wonderful thing, it really is,” he said.
Hollister councilwoman Carol Lenoir said she’s been long impressed by the work done by the Community Foundation and its vision to revitalize downtown. She thanked the Wolf family for their financial support to help fund the new Epicenter.
“When I heard about their philanthropy, my mouth literally fell open,” she said. “I couldn’t believe we got so lucky to receive this gift. A gift that will keep giving far into the future.”
Lenoir mentioned how proud she was for being able to work with the late Marty Richman, former councilman for District 4, and Councilwoman Honor Spencer, who was at the ceremony.
“While it came with some community objection we held firm and supported the economic gain for our downtown,” Lenoir said. “I wish the Epicenter great success knowing that it will greatly assist our local nonprofits who then are able to assist our community members in their time of need.”
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velázquez had filed an appeal and he disagreed with the city’s decision in 2019 to move forward with proposed developments of mixed-use buildings on the 400 block that include retail, residential and the new philanthropic center for the foundation and local nonprofits.
Rebecca Wolf gave thanks to the City of Hollister along with Lenoir, Byrne and Del Curto Brothers Construction for their support in what had been a long process.
Wolf mentioned that she moved to the Bay Area but she was always home in San Benito County on the weekends.
“This was home and I’m very proud of the fact that by partnering with the Del Curto’s this has become a hometown project, and thank you very much, this is terrific,” she said.
Wolf had several special guests show up for the groundbreaking ceremony such as former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, State Senator Anna Caballero and State Assemblymember Robert Rivas.
Rivas, who is a Hollister resident, said he believes the project is the beginning of something special because it addresses many needs and this is the first step to revitalize historic downtown.
“What I always appreciated about this proposal is the form and the scale of the housing that’s incorporated in this project,” he said. “We have housing issues in this state and it’s not a California problem, it’s a national problem.”
Rivas said there’s a lot to be proud and excited about with the new project, especially the housing component because it’s a significant need for Hollister. He mentioned the concept of “walkable communities” and how there’s a clear connection between walkable environments and the economic vitality of a downtown.
Caballero said she was excited to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony because the project is like a dream come true. She said there’s been a lot of people who have put resources and voted to support it.
Caballero thanked the Community Foundation for their persistence to make sure the project could get done. She mentioned that she’s committed to making sure to keep the investments within downtown.
“The downtown is, frankly from my perspective, the heart and soul of any community and this area was bustling, there was always something going on,” Caballero said. “To lose a major building site because of an earthquake is just a tragedy and people have been working on it for 31 years.”