Diane Cullinan is president and owner of The Prudential Cullinan Properties, Ltd. A member of the Peoria Board of Realtors and the Illinois and National Board of Realtors, Diane also serves on the Board of Directors for the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Multi-Ad Services, Inc., and Peoria Association for Retarded Citizens. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for Eureka College and Proctor Health Care Foundation; and serves on the boards of the Peoria Civic Center Authority and the Illinois Department Finance Authority.
After several years of rapid growth, your company affiliated with The Prudential real estate company. Why, and what advantages does this give you? Could you have continued to compete effectively without a national affiliation?
Our number one goal has always been customer satisfaction in reaching their goals – whether in residential, commercial, relocation, development or property management. We had been very successful in those areas, but felt there were ways to be exposed to a broad-based national partnership to further increase and enhance our customers’ satisfaction and goals. Prudential has provided us with the partnership of a very broad-based corporate structure that has expanded our horizons considerably.
Our affiliation with The Prudential has definitely given us a dramatic advantage in the local and national markets. We felt very honored that a quality company such as Prudential had studied the local market and had aggressively pursued us. We felt our goals and values were similar to what they were accomplishing. Basically, we are now boundaryless in what we can provide our customers in services locally or worldwide.
I should clarify though; some people thought our affiliation with Prudential signaled a sale of Cullinan Properties to Prudential. In reality, I am still the 100 percent owner of Cullinan Properties with Prudential acting as a partner in the affiliation of brokerage and relocation services. We actually compensated them for the affiliation, not vice versa.
I was very concerned about affiliating with a national organization because I feared they would not be progressive and quick to change. The Prudential has the right kind of attitude. When we get a good idea, we like to act on it immediately. The Prudential is going to partner with us on some of the new ideas that we have technologically and offer is here and nationwide.
We now have access to the highest professional training and education, newest technology, data and quality processing systems, etc. These tools make our job more effective and allow us to deliver more professional service to the customer. The Prudential affiliation has given us many more tools to serve our customers. My only regret is that we did not affiliate two years ago, when they first approached us.
Give us a general synopsis of the residential real estate market in Peoria.
Residentially, our business has been up considerably over last year. The marketplace in the Peoria area has been stronger in the last five years than the early and mid 1980s. We have seen growth in the new construction market as well as in existing home sales. Also, we have seen an abundance of first time home buyers, because if some cases they can buy cheaper than rent. With the interest rates so favorable, there couldn’t be a better time to purchase that new home they always dreamed about.
Residentially, buyers are very sensitive to taxes levied by their respective taxing districts. It will be a large factor is future decision about where people purchase.
The City of Peoria recently completed a long-range plan for real estate development. What kind of a job is the city doing in planning and managing for development?
In my opinion, the city has made great advances in planning for development in the years to come. In the past, the city seemed to be mostly reactive, responding to situations as they arose. Now, the city is taking a pro-active approach – anticipating development, planning for it, preparing the infrastructure to service it, and guiding it in ways which are in the best interests of the community and residents. The extension of sanitary sewer lines and improvement of roadways out Route 88 and 150, which are the city’s two biggest growth corridors, is an example of how the city is anticipating and preparing for future development, thus allowing the city to grow. On the whole, the city’s new comprehensive plan is an important step forward. Undoubtedly, there will be some modifications as time goes on and development progresses, but overall the plan is well-conceived.
What do you think of the idea of a Peoria-owned waterworks as a tool for economic development and annexation?
I don’t feel that I have all the facts to give a definite opinion on the Peoria owned waterworks. The idea has merit and should be studied more thoroughly in the next few months. I respect Peter Korn’s opinion that this has been a valuable direction to proceed based on other communities he has managed and studied. It may be worthwhile to also consider privatization as government has recognized more and more benefits to this trend. While the window of opportunity is here to review all alternatives, it does seem prudent to do so.
Some developers and businesses say that it’s hard to develop in Peoria because of red tape and regulations. What has your experience been? Has the situation changed over the pats few years since you have been in the business?
The situation has improved overall and there are still some opportunities for improvement in new development in Peoria. At times, it seems the primary focus is on rigid adherence to rules and regulations, regardless of the ramifications. The focus should be on how to resolve issues in a way that satisfies the intentions of the rules and regulations, but allows development to proceed without all the delays, additional expense, red tape, etc. We all have the same goals of progress for the city. Recalling the early 1980s, we should be ecstatic with the increased development activity taking place in Peoria. We should be welcoming this with open arms and work to eliminate obstacles in its path. The goal is to have a healthy, growing, thriving community. The city can only progress when development takes place. To the extent that overly literal or rigid adherence to rules and regulations hampers and stifles development, it harms the best interests of the city and its residents.
The developers’ and the city’s goals should be to facilitate development within the context of the ordinances and regulations. Our experience has been good with the city because of the expertise of our extensive staff. In addition, our group goes the extra mile to communicate our intentions and approach to the neighbors surrounding our developments. This has certainly helped the success of our developments in all stages of working with the city.
What, in your opinion, are the keys to successful future economic development for Peoria?
In the long-term, we need to continue the efforts to develop, beautify and save our greatest natural asset – the riverfront and Peoria Lake. Second, unless we succeed in acquiring a direct highway link to Chicago (and then hopefully St. Louis), Bloomington-Normal could surpass the greater Peoria area in size, influence and appeal early in the next century. Third, the cooperation of joint public-private ventures must continue, so that the developmental abilities of the private sector and the bonding and legislative powers of the government can combine to facilitate developments which neither could accomplish independently. Also, as discussed earlier, we would like to see the cities and counties take a modified attitude toward development – one which emphasizes flexibility, cooperation and facilitation. In addition, the marketing efforts of the EDC and the Chamber much continue to be supported so the Peoria area can continue to grow. The only way we can improve is to aggressively assist the existing companies in our area in their expansions and to bring some additional new companies to the area to broaden our base.
With The Prudential, we can now advertise our commercial properties nationwide. People in our area don’t realize that Peoria is such a great investment base. We have many people constantly contacting us wanted to get involved in development projects. We just purchased a commercial retail development in the north end of town, and we were competing with not only another local group but an investment group from Chicago. Our properties in Peoria are showing greater returned than in most other areas, and our market here is much healthier than most other markets, on the coasts, or in Chicago and St. Louis.
Is the uncertainty over a Caterpillar-UAW contract still a major factor in the local economy? What are your thoughts on the labor conflict and the way it affects the Peoria area, both concretely and in the way our area is perceived by potential investors?
The Cat-UAW situation is a major factor in our area. We have been enjoying an overall excellent market in both the residential and commercial arenas, compared to other real estate markets as close as Chicago and as far away as both the East and West Coasts.
I recognize that there is an overall importance to addressing the resolution of the Cat-UAW issues to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. The key issue to remember here is that the resolution of these issues will affect Caterpillar’s strength in the world economy, not just the local one. I would hope that the UAW leadership would recognize that labor rates and markets in other areas of the local, national, and worldwide economies are all affecting Caterpillar. A competitive Caterpillar worldwide does benefit this community greatly because most of Caterpillar’s manufacturing base is right here in Illinois, especially Central Illinois.
I am personally confident of Caterpillar’s commitment to the community and its needs. As far as how the labor conflict affects Peoria in the way our area is perceived by potential investors, I feel it is two-fold. The UAW leadership has lost respect in the nationwide business community through their negotiation tactics in the current labor situation. This has created some concerns by companies looking to potentially locate in Peoria due to the perception of general labor attitudes. As far as Caterpillar is concerned, from a corporate level, I think their commitment sends a very clear, positive signal to potential investors – Caterpillar is here to stay and Peoria is an excellent place to invest.
Some critics maintain that Peoria has seen some commercial overbuilding in the past few years in terms of office and retail space, and that much of the building represents companies pulling out of one building to move to another. What is your response to this?
Relative to other markets Peoria’s size, we are not overbuilt in any sector. The rush of office and retail development in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s has merely allowed us to catch up with demands and provide a comfortable cushion in these two market segments. Remember, virtually nothing was built here in the early- and mid-1980s. Yes, there has been some movement of tenants from older buildings in downtown Peoria to some of the newer ones. But these tenants moved because they needed more space, or needed to fit requirements only new buildings can offer. Other tenants who similarly need more space will move into that vacated space. This transition, coupled with the arrival of new tenants coming to Peoria, will cause all of the downtown buildings to approach full capacity again. At that time, there will no doubt be another burst of new office development. While this will probably not happen soon, it will happen.
With respect to retail development, the recent increase is due to the arrival of tenants which had targeted Peoria and were simply waiting for our economy to rebound. It has rebounded, and now they are here – Sam’s, Kohl’s, Phar-Mor, Office Max, Cub Foods, Target. This growth has not caused a mass exodus from our older centers – Sheridan Village, Metro Centre, and Evergreen Square all still have very strong occupancies. Like the office market, the retail market is stable right now, but there will continue to be new retail projects in some of the growth areas of the city.
What are your personal thoughts on downtown and riverfront development, now that a local coalition has begun the process in earnest?
I think the prospects for downtown and riverfront development are brighter than ever and tremendously exciting. In our riverfront and Peoria Lake, we have assets which few cities our size have. This can become such a dynamic, attractive, special place that will be a draw for all of Central Illinois and beyond. It will set up apart from any other city in the region. It is a competitive advantage upon which we should capitalize.
Achieving this development will, however, require the joint cooperation and collaboration of the private and public sectors. There seems to be more emphasis on this now than ever before, and this emphasis seems sincere and determined. If this continues, and I think it will, we will see a gradual growth and development of the south and east side of downtown and the riverfront over the next decade which will truly transform the face of Peoria.
What worries you most as a business owner and manager?
As a manager, we occasionally have people who are resistant to change. Change (and rapid change, I might add) is an inevitable fact of doing business today. Nothing will remain the same. We must always remain open to new ideas and better ways of providing services so that the customers can be the ultimate winners.
Our concept at The Prudential Cullinan Properties, Ltd., has been so successful because of our team approach. Certainly, that has been very good for our clients because they are not just hiring one expert, but rather a team of experts with every transaction or development. In today’s world of more complex issues, we find this to be a much more successful approach.
What is your philosophy of hiring and management?
In order to successfully motivate people to peak performance, you have to be careful in both the selection and the placement of the individuals within the organization. The entire approach starts with a systematic, serious and continual effort to place people in the position in which they can best perform and contribute to the productivity of the company. You also have to maintain high standards of performance, not only for the owner and management team, but for all employees. In addition, it is important that the information be available in the organization to all people to do their jobs effectively. The open exchange of information is an important component to everyone assisting in meeting the organization’s goals. It is also important to focus on opportunities for individuals to participate within the corporate framework, so that they can share the vision.
I am concerned that people understand how their role contributes to the organizational goals and overall vision of the company. For that reason, we have numerous meetings and opportunities for interaction and participation on the part of all the staff. Other concerns relate to providing people the tools and the environment in which to perform. All of these important elements are part of our approach to customer satisfaction. This includes both the external customer who helps provide us an opportunity to serve them and the internal customer, our group of coworkers that we interact with daily. Our Prudential affiliation has provided us with even more tools to response to both of these customer groups.
I have always enjoyed reading about Jack Welch, chairman of General Electric. He talks about a boundaryless attitude. We get real excited about that here, because things are changing so rapidly in business today that it is so exciting to try new things. You have to keep thinking, “There are not boundaries.” For example, the customers in our business need us seven days a week. Our office started staying open seven days a week four years ago. We thought, “Well, this will be exciting, but someone else will probably jump on the bandwagon within a couple of months.” To this day we are still the only real estate company open seven days a week. And we are also open and staffed into the early evening hours, not because we are trying to overwork our staff, but because we are truly trying to respond to customer needs. It’s an attitude thing. Sometimes when you attempt to change an attitude, people are resistant to change; if you continually weed out the people within an organization that are very resistant to change, you can have a very dynamic, growing, boundaryless attitude and team approach. We try to remind each other everyday; what can we do that may sound very unusual on the surface, but is something that a client might need?
There’s a real comfort factor involved in doing things the way they have always been done, and a lot of people have a hard time letting go of that. What makes business very exciting and makes customers appreciative of how responsive you can be to their needs is to basically accept the fact that every day you are going to be changing the way you do things for the better – that you are never going to rest of accept the old ways of doing business. That’s what makes development interesting. We try to do new and different things in our developments, and anticipate change.
Nationwide, people are getting busier, so we plan to bring more things into their homes via computer and phone modem. We are working on refining some things that will allow us to go to the customer rather than always expecting the customer to come to us. Firms that are not keeping up technologically are really going to be left behind.
Staying abreast of industry innovation and technology is essential in any business. What changes do you see coming in your industry? How do you be pro-active?
As is true with most businesses today, the real estate industry is a rapidly changing business. The Prudential affiliation has assisted us in implementing and anticipating change faster so that our local clients can benefit immediately. In the ever changing world of real estate, along with the sales industry in general, we will continue to see more and more technology in laptop computers, cellular phones and fax machines in cars. We will also see sales agents accomplishing loan origination and accessing different cities to obtain photos of homes on a screen. Technology is so exciting now as to all that is can offer our customers. We are in the process of investing aggressively in that area, both at the company and at the building level, so we can be the best possible. We are a very pro-active team. If you have a boundaryless attitude in the technology area so many things are possible.
We have made a commitment to continually improve our computer systems, databases, staff training, professional policies and procedures. We take pride in the fact that we have always been an industry leader and practiced innovative approaches to problem-solving. We think our professional service involves a great deal of problem resolution. Part of innovation is achieved through the careful selection process of our staff members and our independent contractors. We focus on experience, education, and training. We are pro-active in our approaches and continually review new ideas and methods. IBI