The striking contrast between the attractive University of Nevada-Reno campus and the blighted neighborhood just across the street troubled Garry Hill-Thomas ’00.
In the shadow of a university that had completed a succession of major capital improvement projects stood dilapidated homes with boarded up windows and empty lots filled with trash. “It just didn’t make sense to me,” he said. “I became very passionate about revitalizing the area.”
Hill-Thomas joined with fellow UNR alum and basketball teammate Kevinn Pinkney in 2011 to form Pink Hill Properties, LLC, and the pair are now leading the rehabilitation of Virginia Street along the UNR corridor.
Their flagship project, The Towers at Pink Hill, due to open in August 2017, will provide modern and affordable student housing on three floors, with restaurants and retail shops on the ground floor.
This project addresses the great need for student housing, while beautifying the neighborhood, Hill-Thomas said. “There is a lack of student housing around the university. Many of the students who can’t get housing in the dorms live in basements of old residential buildings,” he said. “Those aren’t places where families feel comfortable leaving their sons and daughters. We wanted to change that.”
Basketball Serves As a Launching Pad
Hill-Thomas was a standout hoopster at O’Dowd, helping lead the Dragons to back-to-back Hayward Area Athletic League titles his junior and senior years.
He earned a scholarship to UNR, where he majored in marketing, and played on the university’s 2003-2004 team that made it to the NCAA Sweet 16. Last year, he was inducted into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Wherever I go, I’m always very proud to say I’m a Dragon.”
He played professional basketball – both in the NBA D-League and in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and New Zealand – for six years, before taking a position as a professional scout with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He returned to UNR to earn his MBA and served as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team from 2013-15, and also started the first AAU basketball program in Nevada – the Wolverines – through the non-profit Children’s Cabinet, Inc. In addition to providing youngsters a positive athletic experience, the mission was to educate them about the importance of meeting NCAA academic requirements and the nuances of the college recruitment process.
Hill-Thomas currently serves an assistant coach for the D-League Reno Big Horns as well as co-CEO of Pink Hill.
Balancing two very different professional roles is a challenge, he admits. But the coach/real estate developer finds comfort in the familiarity of the gym. “To be able to leave my office and walk on to the gym floor brings me a sense of relaxation,” he said.
Pictured above: Garry with co-CEO Kevinn Pinkney
Changing the Housing Landscape
Hill-Thomas said there were several challenges getting his student housing project off the ground. With money he had saved from his professional basketball days, he approached several of the property owners with offers to purchase their homes. “They were more than willing,” he said.
Then came the hard part. Discovering there were zoning restrictions blocking the plan, Hill-Thomas and his business partner had to persuade the city to rezone the area to allow for multifamily and mixed use. “It took a lot of time to pull everyone together to see the big picture,” he said.
The project has garnered lots of interest. “We’ve drawn investors from other cities who are helping to transform the outlying area of the university campus, which is great because we couldn’t have changed that whole block with our dollars. But we were the pioneers in putting it all together and it’s been nice to have other people see the vision, feel the excitement and jump in, too. ”
A second building is planned for The Tower at Pink Hill, and the company has acquired other property in Reno with plans to create a community of duplexes targeted for millennials seeking to break into the housing market, Hill-Thomas said.
Hill-Thomas hopes to make a similar impact on his hometown of Oakland, and has his eye on property around O’Dowd for a possible residential development project.
He and his wife, Rosana, hope to relocate to Oakland in the not-too-distant future with their sons, Garry Jr., 7, and Kionni, 4.
O’Dowd a Continuing Influence
Hill-Thomas says his O’Dowd experience continues to impact him. “I’ve loved this school from the day I got here until today. I can’t express the appreciation I have for the assistance it played in the direction of my life,” he said on a recent visit to campus. “There are successful O’Dowd alumni in all walks of life – athletics, government, medicine – and all are doing such positive things. That’s the reason I want my kids to go to this school, too.”
Added Hill-Thomas, “Wherever I go, I’m always very proud to say I’m a Dragon.”
To learn more about Pink Hill visit www.pinkhilltowers.com