New ULI Chairman Shares Insights

When Peter Rummell takes the reins at the Urban Land Institute, he brings with him a background that well equips him to guide the organization through the murky waters of land development in this post-economic crisis climate over the next two years.

February 4, 2011
By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor

When Peter Rummell takes the reins at the Urban Land Institute, he brings with him a background that well equips him to guide the organization through the murky waters of land development in this post-economic crisis climate over the next two years.

Rummell, principal with the Rummell Co., will serve as the organization’s next chairman. A ULI member for nearly three decades and a respected veteran of the development industry for 40-plus years, he will step into the shoes of Jeremy Newsum and serve a two-year term beginning July 1, 2011.

Rummell comes to the table with a background rendering him well equipped to guide ULI through the murky waters of land development in this post-economic crisis climate over the next two years. He commenced his career at the Sea Pines Co., working under the tutelage of a development industry legend who instilled in him the importance of environmentally responsible growth. He continued to hone his skills over the years in various positions including president of the Disney Development Co. and chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, jobs that allowed him to spearhead such projects as Celebration, Fla., which has become a model pedestrian-oriented community. He also served as chairman and CEO of The St. Joe Co., a firm known for placing an emphasis on environmentally friendly development.

Taking on the position of ULI chairman as the country, and much of the world, moves to recover from the economic downturn, Rummell will certainly have to navigate any number of new challenges. And if anything is clear, it is that the challenges are increasingly global. “We haven’t crystallized global themes into bullet points, but in my 42 years in the business, I’ve learned that there are two forces that are separate but wholly related–urbanization and infrastructure,” he said. “Everything falls into those two categories, and the more we develop our footprint outside of the U.S., the more relevant it becomes, and more so in the developing world. Not only is the whole world behind in these areas, the question becomes how do you pay for it? In 2011, world infrastructure is hard and when you add the economic downturn, it makes a bad situation even worse.”

The current and evolving issues go to the very core of ULI’s mission, which is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and the development of sustainable communities. “We were founded by developers but we quickly became a place where developers, planners and public officials come together to discuss ideas. That’s the unique role we play, providing a forum for that conversation, and our role as a convener is becoming more and more important.”

ULI is prepared to take on the increased responsibilities from one continent to the next. “We’re growing in a lot of different ways,” Rummell noted. “We’ve developed a worldwide region in the last decade; we have 50 district councils and an additional 14 in Asia and Europe. Think globally act locally. As corny as that sounds, that’s really where we are. We have worldwide themes but we have people in Jacksonville and people in London who are worried about Jacksonville and London. Organizationally, how you tie that together is the new challenge for ULI because the organization has grown dramatically in the last 10 years.”

Its worldwide expansion has been an educational experience for ULI’s domestic members. “We started as a U.S.-centric organization with the sense that everything is made here, but that’s not true,” Rummell said. “We’re more advanced in many areas but our membership would say that we’ve gotten as much as we’ve given. The more time we’ve spent out of the U.S., any American developer would tell you that it’s been a humbling experience. It all goes back to convening. We provide a way for all of us to learn from each other. What France is going through and what China is going through, those are different, but there are common themes.”

Rummell has a clear view of what is in store for ULI and land development moving forward, and he eagerly awaits the opportunity to clear hurdles and facilitate progress through the organization. While the issues are complex, his viewpoint is clear; simple, yet profound. On the issue of commercial real estate, for example, he asserted, “The world has gotten out of balance, and how you get back to that balance is a combination of supply, demand and product. The world got ahead of itself four years ago and that is painful in some cases, completed in others. It’s an interesting time. I’m really honored to be asked to serve as chairman. I look forward to doing it and I hope I can add value.”