College of Business graduate giving back to the university and community

You'd expect a basketball player for the University of Nevada, Reno team that made it all the way to NCAA Sweet 16 (2003-2004) would be brimming with confidence.

But entering the business world, requires a whole different type of confidence.

]Garry Hill-Thomas, co-owner of Pink Hill Properties, LLC, with basketball teammate Kevinn Pinkney, entered the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business to be prepared for whatever professional life threw at him.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," said Hill-Thomas, who graduated from The College of Business in 2015. "It allowed me to meet a lot of different people doing a lot of different things (in the community)."

A large part of his studies for his Masters of Business Administration degree involved networking with fellow students and professors. Those contacts continue to help him build his businesses.

As he's transitioned from student to businessman, Hill-Thomas and Pinkney are giving back to the community and university.

Hill-Thomas and Pinkney, who continues to play professional basketball with an Israeli team, already have a track record of giving back to the community. "Both Kevinn and I love it here," Hill-Thomas said. "We've both made Reno our home."

In 2010, the pair worked with the Children's Cabinet, Inc., to found the Nevada C.C. Wolverines basketball program to help children develop social, athletic and academic skills.

Hill-Thomas also played professional basketball before returning to Reno. He now serves as assistant coach with the Reno Bighorns. He lives full-time in Reno with his wife and two sons.

As their first development project, Pinkney and Hill-Thomas are transforming an eyesore across from the university into modern student housing and a gathering place for students.

The Towers at Pink Hill, which is under construction on North Virginia at 14th Street, is a four-story, mixed-use building that will add 23 units to student-housing options and commercial space on the ground floor.

The project is on three lots that formerly included a boarded-up house, an alley, and an open lot used for parking. The project got a little behind due to the record-breaking winter in the area, but was expected to be move-in ready in early September.

Getting to this point took extensive planning and negotiations, something The College of Business gave Hill-Thomas the knowledge to manage.

The business partners first noticed the weed-infested block across from the neatly managed university as a sad contrast.

"We just wanted to do something nice for the university. To give something back," Hill-Thomas said in a previous interview. "It was tough driving by and seeing one side of the street looking nice and the other looking sad."

What at first seemed like a problem that could be solved with a few phone calls and financing, turned into a three-year battle.

They purchased two of the offending parcels and discovered zoning restrictions blocked their plans. The west side of North Virginia Street was zoned for single-family homes.

"It took many, many phone calls, lunch meetings, pledges, begging," Hill- Thomas said.

Through several months, the city worked with them through layers of red tape to rezone their lots to multifamily and mixed use.

But the victory was short-lived. Their lots were next to a home, creating another obstacle.

"Come to find out, if it's next to a single-family home, you can't build multifamily next to it," he said.

"We explained what we planned to do; what we planned to bring to the area." In a year and a half working with the city, the officials caught their vision. With the city on board, the entire block was rezoned to allow mixed, multifamily and commercial development.

"Within a couple weeks, a couple student-housing development companies literally bought the entire (remaining) block," Hill-Thomas said.

When complete, the 23 units, which range from studio to four-bedroom, will provide housing for 54 students with individual leases. The larger units will have a common area with tenant rooms separated with individual locks.

"Modern mixed-use buildings have, not only housing for students, but easy access to the university," Hill-Thomas said.

"The concept is a little foreign to Reno, but you see it in major cities." Below the student housing units, 8,000 square feet of commercial space will also serve student needs.

Greater Nevada Credit Union, which provided financing for the project, is set to occupy half of the commercial space.

The remaining space will be filled with what Hill-Thomas calls a threerestaurant concept that the business partners envisioned.

The goal is to build the social side of life for students attending a major college campus, to provide an easily accessible place to gather after games, meet friends and eat, he said.

"Many students don't have the luxury of cars" so they need easy walking access to places to gather and get food.

Pink Hill will offer a café/deli concept, a modern twist to a pizza place, and an ice cream sandwich shop.

It's all designed with the needs of students and their families in mind.

"We wanted to create a safe environment, a newer environment," Hill-Thomas said. "A lot of housing around here are older buildings.

"It's also a place for parents to leave their kid and feel it's a safer environment as they drive home."

Despite the difficulties at the start of the Pink Hill project, the experience has only whet the appetite of Pinkney and Hill-Thomas.

"We plan to continue this and continue to grow," Hill-Thomas said.