Meet San Jose’s new Downtown Manager

Published April 20, 2023

Nathan Donato-Weinstein is excited to begin his new role Monday as the City of San Jose’s next Downtown Manager and help achieve downtown’s revitalization and economic goals.

He has been involved with downtown business activities the past 10 years, starting as a commercial real estate reporter with the Silicon Valley Business Journal and the past seven years as the City’s business development officer.

Now, his job will shift. Instead of recruiting R&D and manufacturing companies to the city and doing business development policy work, he will be involved with downtown stakeholders including social services providers who help the unhoused, teams responsible for maintaining clean and safe streets, non-profits and event producers devoted to a wide range of activities – as well as assisting businesses and working with property owners to fill vacant storefronts.

“What happens to our streets is a big part of what I’ll be doing,” Donato-Weinstein said. “I will be diving back into the community, re-establishing relationships and getting myself back into the game. It’s going to take a lot of coordination to bring the team together and drive downtown’s big goals forward. I’m excited to explore whatever comes next and take that on.”

Downtown community is special

“I loved downtown when I first got here 11 years ago and started covering commercial real estate,” he said. “It was a big outdoor canvas. It seemed like anywhere I went, I’d run into someone on my beat – always when I went to the Post Office. That doesn’t happen everywhere. Downtown is big enough and still small enough for something like that to happen. I immediately felt like a part of the community.

“Then there were the event and venues – Rotary, Hoge Fenton breakfasts – places where people gather. That’s part of the culture of downtown. There’s no opportunity for those sorts of connections in an isolated office campus – you come to the realization that there’s something special about a place where networking can happen.”

“Downtown is the place where you can be a part of something; where you can find your community – whether it be professional, social, the Qmunity District, the entertainment and arts communities.  That’s special and cool. And I still have a lot to explore.”

Thoughts from Donato-Weinstein about his first days in his new position

“We’ve been making 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans, so I haven’t given the first day much thought,” he said.  “I just know that I will listen a lot.”

He wants to have discussions about downtown with residents, businesses and nonprofits; police officers and firefighters; commercial real estate representatives; and people new to the community including Alex Stettinski, chief executive officer of the Downtown Association.

“Line staff are part of the story – they’re the ones doing the work,” he added.  “I’m absolutely interested in how Groundwerx works —  their challenges, what’s working and not.

“I will learn from all of them. They’re all part of the first day, and will give me an idea of where to focus. The ecosystem connects the dots. Safety and all of the above are worth our time. We want a clean and comfortable downtown with office workers who want to be here; activations and events to draw people in so that we’re not so dependent on office workers; and basic blocking and tackling on vacant spaces.

“Like the Mayor says, we’ll get back to basics.”

Daily victories provide motivation to achieve overall objectives

Mayor Mahan is largely responsible for fostering a sense of urgency to hire a new downtown manager. The idea to dedicate Office of Economic Development staff members to downtown was the top recommendation of a Downtown Vibrancy transitional committee in February. That idea made it into the Mayor’s March budget message and approved by the entire City Council.  The City then moved quickly to get one downtown leader into the position.

Donato-Weinstein hopes to continue the good work of his predecessor, Blage Zelalich, longtime deputy director at the Downtown Association, who moved into the Downtown Manager for the City and is now the City’s Deputy Director Business Development.

“My jobs are about customer service:  helping someone to understand something, create a better strategy, present a new opportunity,” Donato-Weinstein said.

He recalled helping a commercial management firm trying to lease a coffee shop on Park Avenue that ran into a parking issue on Park Avenue. Donato-Weinstein searched City records found in the California Room of the library and found a business use agreement from 1965, and open the path to leasing the space with parking requirements checked off.

“I get a charge out of making a difference and getting an outcome in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.

His past experience prepares him to shift gears often.

“The spin cycle of focus will be everchanging,” he said of his new job.  “One day it will be the unhoused. Then vacant storefronts, this or that. Generally the process of business investment takes time. Things can take years and if you stick around long enough, you see the outcomes.

“The act of communicating is so important — making endless introductions, discussing the downtown market, educating them. Those conversations don’t have immediate payoff. But they are never for naught. I really believe that.”

The bigger economic picture

Downtown also holds a special place for most people working at City Hall because it is a powerful economic driver for the entire city, Donato-Weinstein added.

“Some things are part of everyone’s jobs,” he said. “Working with the unhoused is one. Economic development is along the same lines because of the value it brings, and not only to downtown.

“As it relates to supporting a rec center, library or police officer, everyone cares and rows in the same direction. It’s all about neighborhood activation and culture.  That’s why business development is so important.”

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