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I attended last Friday’s forum for Gilroy City Council candidates and found many aspects to praise—the amazing Toni Bowles who has transformed the old Louis Hotel into The Neon Exchange, a community center; the very effective organization of the program and its excellent moderators; and the candidates who represented their views and goals quite well.

But, one question alleged the Gilroy Downtown Business Association (GDBA) pursues the interests of building owners, but tends to neglect the interests of businesses who occupy those buildings. I’m not a building or business owner, but I do have a lot of experience with Gary Walton, who heads the GDBA, and I wanted to jump up and tell the crowd what I’ve observed about him.

My introduction to Gary could have been awkward, but he made it fun. I was having lunch at his Lizarran Tapas Restaurant and my friend beckoned Gary, then told him I was the smart alec who wrote a letter to the Dispatch asking why, as we were upgrading downtown, would we allow a topless restaurant to open in Old City Hall. The Dispatch treated it as the joke I intended, and thankfully so did Gary. He even thanked me for giving him an opportunity to tell the public about tapas.

I then got to know Gary better while working to save the historic Miller Red Barn and develop it into a tribute to our agricultural history. Soon he was recruiting me to photograph downtown projects like the beautiful restoration of the old bank building, now a woman’s clothing store at Martin and Monterey where he went to great lengths in matching old fixtures. He got me to shoot the transformation of the pool hall into Greenhouse Coworking; very old fragments of circus posters on the ceiling of an old business building; photos of retrofitting he had done for earthquakes; posters for display during tours of buildings being retrofitted; and various events in Gourmet Alley.

Frequently, Gary sent out emails with links to TED Talks or innovative programs that pulled communities together—building community spirit was a constant topic. Gary’s new buildings at Fifth and Eigleberry as well as at Fourth and Eigleberry are great examples of tasteful architecture, and his remodels too (like the temporary library on Monterey Street) are very well done.

My sense of Gary Walton is that he works hard to improve life for everyone in Gilroy and is constantly on the lookout for new approaches.

Phill Laursen 


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