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Dene Oliver sets sights on eliminating chronic homelessness

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OliverMcMillan CEO Dene Oliver, who has developed a portfolio of trend-setting commercial, residential and entertainment centers that focus on how people live, is sharing his expertise with a most unlikely group of San Diegans -- the chronically homeless.

Dene Oliver

Over the past two years, Oliver has been the co-chair of the Leadership Council for The Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. That planning effort, coordinated by the United Way of San Diego, included a search for best practices that took Oliver and other council members around the country to meet with other cities involved in the National Partnership to End Chronic Homelessness.

In October, the San Diego City Council unanimously adopted the plan, which was supported by more than 100 stakeholders and 17 municipalities.

"Besides being the right thing to do, ending chronic homelessness has an enormous payoff," says Oliver. "A recent cost-benefit analysis identified $3 million in costs associated with 15 chronic inebriates over an 18-month period. The severe problems that homeless individuals face, such as alcoholism and mental illness, can be better addressed in a permanent living environment, rather than having them ricochet through expensive health and law enforcement systems."

For his work on behalf of the homeless, Oliver was recently honored with "A Home for Every American Award" by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, a partnership of 20 federal agencies. In accepting the award, Oliver said, "Together, the San Diego region will focus on the small segment of the population that is routinely homeless and use the best minds, skills and talents to address the human suffering, as well as the drain on its resources."

Oliver's emphasis on using "the best minds, skills and talents" to do good is characteristic of how he runs OliverMcMillan. His internal motto is, "We will not scorch the earth," but the reality is OliverMcMillan has been responsible for some of the most respected mixed-use projects in San Diego in the past 30 years.

The company jumpstarted the office/R&D development of La Jolla's University Towne Center in the early 1980s with the development of the Prudential and Union Bank towers, which are still considered architectural icons.

The company was later responsible for the first major redevelopment of Hillcrest with the transformation of the 14-acre Sears site in Hillcrest to a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use retail center and residential development called Uptown District. The $70 million project was the first step in the revitalization of University Avenue, now a hip thoroughfare lined with restaurants, shops and services.

OliverMcMillan was also one of the first developers to see the potential of downtown as a live-work-play Mecca. Signature downtown projects include the Pacific Gaslamp Theatres, Borders bookstore, Ralphs grocery store, Buca di Beppo and Horton 4th Avenue Apartments, one of the first loft projects downtown.

Currently, OliverMcMillan is working on executing new projects with a value of approximately $500 million.

Downtown, the company is focusing on residential mixed-use development with a series of for-sale and for-rent lofts and condominiums in the East Village and Cortez Hill neighborhoods. The first planned to open, The Lofts at 677 Seventh Ave., will feature 148 apartment units in an urban-style environment with approximately 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and underground parking.

Nearing completion is Aloft on Cortez Hill, a five-story mid-rise on Date Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues that will feature 168 homes. The recreation-oriented residential enclave features homes that range from the signature platform loft to one- and two-bedroom styles. Prices vary from the low $300,000s to the low $600,000s. Aloft on Cortez Hill features panoramic views of San Diego Bay, downtown and Balboa Park.

Oliver says that he looks to the past for inspiration and toward the future for lifestyle trends. An apt example is the OliverMcMillan office in the historic Eagles Hall building at 733 Eighth Ave. Contemporary mixed-media artwork is juxtaposed with ancient Asian artifacts; modern stainless steel furniture and walls of glass play off original brick walls in the 1917 building that was originally a lodge and social hall. The open architecture invites collaboration and casual conversations, hallmarks of the company culture.

That attitude -- coupled with inventive solutions, architectural imagination and attention to lifestyle trends -- has served the company well. OliverMcMillan has changed the face of San Diego, one neighborhood after another. With that track record, things are looking up for the homeless in San Diego.

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