An Interview with Diane Cullinan and Sandy Moldovan

Diane Cullinan founded Prudential Cullinan Properties, Ltd., in 1988.

The company is a full service real estate/development company with more than 125 employees and independent contractors.

She is past chairman of the Illinois Development Finance Authority, and is a member of the Susan G. Komen board of directors; Multi-Ad Service, Inc. board of directors; the Creve Coeur Club board of directors; and Prudential National Affiliates Real Estate Vision Council. Cullinan is also an honorary member of the Proctor Health Care Foundation trustees.

In the past, Cullinan has been involved with groups such as the Peoria Civic Center Authority board, the Peoria Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Junior Achievement board of directors, Peoria Association for Retarded Citizens board of directors, Eureka College board of trustees, and Who’s Who in U.S. Executives.

She is currently co-chair of the infrastructure committee of the Gov. George Ryan’s transition team, and is associated with the Peoria Board of Realtors, the National Association of Realtors, and the President’s Club of the Peoria Board of Realtors.

Cullinan has won many area awards, including Peoria and Illinois Chambers of Commerce Athena Awards, YWCA Leadership Award, 40 Leaders Under Forty award, Observer’s Enterprise Award, Life Seals of Excellence, and was named in the Tope 10 Business Leaders in Central Illinois. She has four children.

Sandy Moldovan, P.E., a graduate of the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering founded Clark Engineers, Inc., in 1973, a consulting engineer firm with offices in Peoria, Salem, and Chicago, Ill., and in Phoenix. He currently serves as president and CEO.

Clark Engineers was honored by the Peoria Chamber of Commerce as small business of the year in 1995.

Moldovan’s community involvement includes: past instructor at Illinois Central College, past chairman and director of Peoria Area Easter Seals, board member of Private Industry Council, past president and director of Washington Chamber of Commerce, board member of Peoria Area EDC, chairman of Washington Police Commission, chairman of Washington 2000 Foundation, and board member of Washington Area Community Center.

Moldovan has also been awarded Peoria Area Young Engineer of the Year (1978); State of Illinois Young Engineer of the Year (1979); 1998 Volunteer of the Year for the State of Illinois Easter Seal Society; and the 1999 Times Newspapers Enterprise Award.

Moldovan moved to Washington in 1972. He is married to Carolyn, a broker associate at Remax Realty. They have two children – Jennifer, a surgical resident at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and Kristopher, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher in Dallas.

The vision for One Technology Plaza came from whom? How has the project evolved from the initial concept? Why was the Bergner’s site chosen? Why was a downtown site attractive?

Sandy: My initiation into this project started during a dinner with Emil Haeflinger, the vice president of Business Affairs for Illinois Central College. He was concerned about the lack of parking for the downtown ICC students and he asked if I could help.

Initially, the concept was to demolish the buildings between Bergner’s and Liberty Plaza and use the site to build a parking deck with offices on the top two floors. Realizing that a project of this magnitude needed a strong development team, I approached Diane.

It was during this same time that the concept of a technology center was being discussed, with the Bergner’s building proposed as one of the possible homes. Additionally, the City was also actively looking for additional parking downtown. It did not take long for the three ideas to come together.

After completing an extensive evaluation of the Bergner’s building for possible use as a technology center, it became apparent the building had, unfortunately, deteriorated past the point of being able to economically renovate it. The site still seemed ideal.

As a parking structure, it would meet the needs of ICC and the downtown area. In clearing the site, one of the least attractive areas of Peoria would be eliminated and, as the geographic center of Peoria, it was a perfect location for a technology center. As the overall concept grew and took shape, including the development of the criteria for the technology center and determining how much parking was needed, it became increasingly clear that we needed a truly new, modern technology structure.

Diane: As Sandy said, different needs were expressed by different entities. The vision for One Technology Plaza started with a sub-committee of the Riverfront Commission – Carlotta Bielfeldt was the driving force, along with Sharon Murphy. That sub-committee wanted to talk about what could be done on the riverfront that would offer more than just entertainment or food, and would be something of substance that would be long lasting in the community.

From their discussions, the concept of a technology center was researched, partially based on a paper by Bruce Albers of Bradley University.

The idea of the technology center would focus on the development of technological skills, technology training, and the promotion of Peoria as a high-tech community, expand on what was already in Peoria, and also focus on job creation. A very important part of this concept became workforce development, and very early on Bashir Ali and the Private Industry Council took a leadership role in a workforce development partnership with a technology training partnership.

The Bergner’s site was chosen because the initial group was focused on perhaps buying the Bergner’s building. When it was determined the building was not an economically feasible project, the decision was made to create a new building.

The other major component was a realization of the need for more parking from Steve Van Winkle, Caterpillar, and Illinois Central College. The need for more parking downtown combined with the vision of the technology center to create what is now One Technology Plaza.

What are the benefits of the downtown location to the Plaza? Benefits to the downtown area?

Diane: First of all it is an area that had been most recently vacant for more than a decade and has now been turned into an active, vibrant area. The other benefit is that this location is between the Riverfront and the Civic Center, is right on the Fulton Plaza line down to the river, and is central between Caterpillar’s two downtown locations. Therefore, increasing parking in the downtown area and increasing office occupancy benefits the whole downtown. This leads to more focus on our increasingly vibrant downtown and riverfront with more customers, more shoppers, and more people eating in the restaurants.

The downtown location is very important for One Technology Plaza as it will be a symbol of how truly cutting edge Peoria is in technology and workforce efforts. Additionally, our company, as well as the numerous partners in this project, are very committed to a revitalized downtown riverfront. Therefore this location was a natural.

Sandy: I agree. As far back as I can remembers, the downtown location was always thought to be the perfect site. In addition to helping meet the downtown parking needs, the project seemed to be a perfect match with the vision of the City and Riverfront Commission for the resurgence of the downtown area, and especially the renaissance along the Peoria Riverfront.

How many different partners, organizations, city/county, and state government entities have been involved in the development?

Diane: One Technology Plaza has more community partners than any other project we’ve been involved with. One of the partners, County of Peoria, moved its educational regional service center and part of their technology hub to One Technology Plaza. The Central Illinois Career and Technology Center Corporation, known as RiverTech, is also a partner.

RiverTech has 15 partners of its own, including Bradley University, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Caterpillar, District 150, Illinois Central College, Illinois Department of Security, Private Industry Council, Riverfront Development Corporation, Riverfront Commission, and Heartland Partnership.

The City of Peoria is involved in the parking deck. Caterpillar, a tenant in the building, is involved in the parking deck and is a member of RiverTech. The Private Industry Council and its partners are involved both as a tenant and as impetus for the whole partnership that has played a very important role in workforce development.

Additionally, the State Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) has given a grant to the RiverTech Center. Other important regulatory partners include National Garages, now All Right Garage, who added their expertise in developing the parking decks; Ameritech, whose fiber optics run through the building, which was a challenge and a very big positive for the building; and the water company in moving lines and putting in a new water main on Fulton Street. We also cannot forget all of the major sub-contractors.

Has the project been patterned after another center? If so, how, and which one?

Sandy: Over the past few years, we had the opportunity to discuss it with a number of other communities, both regionally and nationally. To date – we appear to be in a league of our own.

Our workforce development team, thanks primarily to Bashir Ali and his staff, has always been a leader in workforce development, but this combination of training and private enterprise in one building solidifies Peoria’s leadership status.

Diane: To take what Sandy said one step further, One Technology Plaza is very unique, but has taken successful elements from other places and incorporated them into the overall design and concept.

Our teams looked at the InfoTech Building in Dallas, the Technology Building in Denver, and at the Technology Center in Galesburg, and read numerous articles about technology centers.

However, this one is unique because is combines the idea of a technology center, providing access to technology and training with workforce development, with private employers all in one building.

What physical barriers were encountered in the construction of One Technology Plaza? Economic barriers?

Sandy: The re-design required as the Bergner’s building was being torn down made for a few sleepless nights.

Because of the fast track nature of this project, we were usually on the edge of the design vs. construction curve. This is another case, however, when the partnership really made a difference.

Everyone – designers, contractors, developers, utilities and especially the city staff – really pulled together and not only completed the re-design, but made the building even better than the original design.

Diane: For us, the biggest barrier encountered in the construction, which really is a barrier, is the 18 foot drop in the street which additionally made design challenging. The street level between Fulton and Washington is 18 feet different, and economically, the cost of acquiring an existing building, tearing them down and then building new certainly made the project a cost challenge.

What building codes/regulations must be considered for this type of building?

Sandy: No special building codes were applicable. We did design the building with attention to what the needs of the future may be. With technology changing at the current pace, it is impossible to provide for all future needs, but we did look into out technology crystal ball as much as possible to allow for further technology growth and development with minimal impact on the structure.

Diane: It worked out well. The building code for this type of building are all of the standard building code that would apply to any building gin Peoria. These codes include National Fire Protection Agency; LifeSafety; and A.D.A. requirements for handicapped accessibility.

Over the years, the codes have been updated to reflect new and more stringent guidelines to meet ever-changing demands. This requires our architects and engineers to constantly keep abreast of the changes, and incorporate them into the building.

The City has been extremely cooperative. A very unique partnership was formed for construction between Concord Construction Management and the City of Peoria’s construction management department.

They oversaw excellent contractors such as River City Construction. There were at first weekly, then monthly meetings coordinating the entire project. I think the City’s expertise in their code department, and the City’s expertise in the people they brought to the table, contributed greatly.

What companies will occupy the facility? For tenants, how does the price per square foot compare to other downtown office space?

Diane: We have a great mix of tenants that contribute to the diversity of the building. They include: Central Illinois Workforce Network (formerly Workforce Development); County of Peoria; RiverTech; Caterpillar; Cullinan Real Estate Services; Howard & Howard; Government Service Agency; Manpower; Central Illinois Bank; and Lincoln Office.

Given the services and amenities offered at One Technology Plaza, the price per square foot compares favorably to other new office space available in the downtown area. One Technology Plaza was designed to handle technologies of today as well as allowing for expansion in the future as those technologies evolve.

What, if any, are the misconceptions regarding One Technology Plaza and the RiverTech Center?

Diane: The only misconception regarding One Technology Plaza and the RiverTech Center is that RiverTech Center is the non-profit agency name for the Operations of Central Illinois Career and Technology Center, the 15 member consortium that is going to provide technology access and training. They are a tenant/purchase of part of the building and are going to occupy the second floor that is street level on Fulton Street. One Technology Plaza is the name for the entire building, which encompasses all of the tenants.

What demand has there been for a community tech center? From the user standpoint? From the business standpoint?

Diane: There has been great demand for a community tech center. Barbara Hartnett, the executive director of RiverTech Center, has been dealing with several different programs. One is a Bit Master Program, which has teenage volunteers training younger people on computers, and in exchange getting a computer for themselves at the end of the program. This program has been successful.

RiverTech Center is also offering a number of different high-tech training courses in cooperation with other training partners throughout the community.

These programs are just beginning, but are moving along and taking off. From a business standpoint, there has been high tenant demand for the building. We are currently more than 85 percent leased. Its high-tech fiber optic, wire, and HVAC capability to handle high computer usage is what attracted Caterpillar’s training to the building.

Sandy: Based on the space already leased, it appears the demand has been strong. I think part of the reason for the demand from the private sector is from the strong support from the workforce development arm of the community, again highlighting the support of our community leaders for workforce development.

Ten years down the road, will the center be able to meet demand by itself, or will there be a need for more like it?

Sandy: Ten years from now? If you just look back at where we were 10 years ago, it is really scary trying to guess what our needs will be ten years from now. A significant part of our firm’s work is in critical load reliability.

Critical load can be anything from computers to refrigeration. All we can truly count on is that we are becoming increasingly dependent on the uninterrupted use of our automated lives. One Technology Plaza was designed with both expansion and reliability in mind.

Diane: We did extensive research into the technology requirements for our tenants. Technology changes almost every six months, so it’s important to keep current on new trends. One Technology Plaza in designed so that more wiring can be added, and it can easily keep up with technology. There is a lost of chase room and capacity room within the building. However, as technology grows I think we will see more buildings as well.

You are both involved in multiple projects at the same time. How do you manage the complexities of such a major development that takes months, sometimes a couple of years to complete?

Diane: The best projects we’ve been involved with tend to be the most challenging, and take years to complete. The challenge of multiple projects at the same time is to maintain a good staff and capable people who can work together. This project has been an amazing teamwork project, between the two partners, Cullinan and Clark, and between all the other participants.

Sandy: I’d have to agree with Diane – assembling a quality team, defining each team member’s responsibility, and giving them the authority to make decisions. This project team was a signature example of this philosophy. From Larry Stevig, our project manager, to each person in the weekly project meetings, everyone worked together with the single goal of completing a project the entire community can be proud of.

Tell us about the Technology Expo, grand opening for One Technology Plaza, and fund raising sales for RiverTech Center, September 16th to September 18th.

Sandy: A committee of community volunteers has been working toward a Technology Expo for more than one year. This idea of a Technology Expo/Summit started in 1997 when there were some “high-tech” discussions in the community. The process was not in place to get it off the ground, but the development of One Technology Plaza has given such an event a focal point. This diverse committee of community volunteers is putting together an event that will be very beneficial to the community, this year and potentially in the years to come. The mission of the 1999 Technology Expo is to increase the awareness of information technology; demonstrate the regional capabilities; identify and address issues/needs all centering on technology for business, education and the public.

Diane: The three-day event will focus on workshops promoting diversity of technology based expertise. What is probably the most exciting is the community open house September 18th.

This event will allow the community to tour One Technology Plaza and the tenants to showcase their facilities in partnership with the Technology Expo. Later that evening a gala to raise funds, in partnership with the Technology Expo, for the RiverTech Center. The proceeds benefit the creation of a public access regional technology software-resource center at One Technology Plaza.

What do you see as the key for continued downtown development? What is your vision of downtown Peoria in the year 2020? Are city officials and local developers making the right moves today? If not, how do we get there?

Sandy: The key to continued downtown development is maintaining the delicate balance needed for the public-private partnership. As a public official, it is difficult to determine where community based effort and dollars should be placed.

Dozens of factors needs to be considered and, eventually, there just needs to be a certain portion of faith thrown in. Given all the pressures from the different interest groups, City officials and staff have done a good job of keeping all the required balls in the air.

Recognizing the riverfront area as an asset that few communities can equal was the first step, and committing the resources necessary to move forward was the next. Now, we need to collectively monitor the development process to be sure we stay focused on the ultimate goal, without losing the ability to take advantage of new opportunities. It is an exciting process and we are proud to be part of it.

Diane: I believe the key is creative financing sources, creative financing programs, continued private-public partnership, and community involvement to make it all happen. Peoria has done a good job with private-public partnerships particularly through the use of funding techniques like TIF districts and special service districts. Another key is long range planning and developing strategic plans.

This needs to be done in cooperation with private sector and with market analysis, remaining flexible to the market so plans can change to adapt to the consumer, but do so in an orderly fashion. It’s our belief that city officials and local developers are making the right moves today to move toward that. A final key – good development is a stream-lined process, because time equates to money, and it’s extremely important to developers to move through the process in a quick and efficient manner. Peoria’s planning department is good about that. IBI