Developers now plan 150 homes in Bank of Italy tower in San Jose

Westbank and Urban Community see office-to-housing conversion for historic building

Developers Plan 150 Homes in San Jose’s Bank of Italy Tower
Urban Community's Gary Dillabough and Jeff Arrillaga and Westbank’s Ian Gillespie with a rendering of 12 South First Street (Urban Community, Wikipedia/Giuliaturco, Bjarke Ingels Group)

Westbank and Urban Community have moved forward with plans to convert the 13-story Bank of Italy Building into as many as 150 homes in Downtown San Jose.

The Vancouver and San Jose-based developers have updated plans for the office-to-home conversion of the historic tower at 12 South First Street, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The building is owned by Westbank, led by Ian Gillespie, and Urban Community, led by Gary Dillabough and Jeff Arrillaga, who bought seven portions that made up the 100,000-square-foot building in 2017 for $27 million.

The Mediterranean Revival and Beaux-Arts landmark, designed by Henry Minton, was built in 1926 for the Bank of Italy, the forerunner of Bank of America. It’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The developers initially planned to restore and renovate the tower, with its distinctive cupula and spire, into small offices for numerous tenants. The plan was to add a green exterior staircase on the south side of the building, as well as a garden terrace with a social club and restaurant.

Then the office market plummeted across the Bay Area during a shift to remote work. Office availability last month in Downtown San Jose hit a record 35.7 percent, according to Savills.

The project now calls for converting the tower into between 125 and 150 apartments or condominiums on at least 11 floors, according to Dillabough and the latest proposal with the city.

The Bank of Italy Building has smaller floors and cozy offices, each with a separate window — which means plenty of sunlight for every residential unit.

“Floors two through 12 shall be reconfigured with new residential units, with new finishes, appliances and necessary electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems,” according to the proposal.

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Gone is the proposal to build an exterior staircase that would spiral up the outside of the tower. 

The developers now plan to add luxury penthouses to the building attic, just below the spire and cupola. The proposal mentions an attic floor of 6,600 square feet, a lower penthouse of 1,400 square feet and an upper penthouse of 900 square feet. 

This suggests the top floors could include posh homes with sweeping views of the South Bay.

New renderings show the office-to-home conversion project, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, with spacious penthouses, garden trellises and terrace restaurants. Purple shafts of light beam from its cupula across a night sky.

Garden areas would be added to the terraces next to the building, including a restaurant with outdoor dining and gathering areas, according to the proposal. 

The adaptive reuse plan could bring foot traffic to the Fountain Alley path that connects South First Street with South Second Street.

“It’s important for Downtown that this project gets completed,” Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, told the Mercury News. “The Bank of Italy reuse project is an extremely complicated and expensive jigsaw puzzle.

“The proposed changes seem reasonable and keep the historic nature of the building intact.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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