Urban Land Institute Northwest Arkansas holds first event, seeks to be ‘thoughtful’ about growth

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,342 views 

The former CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council believes the newly established Urban Land Institute chapter in Northwest Arkansas can help take development projects to the “next level.”

The newest chapter of the nonprofit research and education organization Urban Land Institute (ULI) has officially been established in Northwest Arkansas, and the group’s first event was held Thursday (Jan. 26) at The Record in downtown Bentonville. About 80 business leaders from several Northwest Arkansas industry sectors attended.

The local chapter was formally created late last year, according to Fayetteville businessman Jeremy Hudson, and has already registered about 50 members. ULI has about 36,000 members in nearly 100 countries around the world, and promotes best practices in land use and real estate. It was founded 80 years ago in 1936.

Hudson, partner and CEO at Specialized Real Estate Group in Fayetteville, has regularly attended ULI events since 2013, and has driven the effort of a local steering committee to bring a chapter to Northwest Arkansas. The process included Northwest Arkansas business leaders hosting members of the ULI Oklahoma District Council last spring to learn best practices about establishing a local branch. ULI Oklahoma was founded in 2007.

“ULI is the largest professional organization in the world for land use and real estate professionals,” said Keaton Smith, commercial relationship manager at IberiaBank, and a member of the local ULI steering committee. “Given the past and continued pace of growth in Northwest Arkansas, we understand the need to be thoughtful about where and how we grow. ULI Northwest Arkansas will be a missing piece in these conversations – a private-sector driven organization providing thought leadership in the areas of land use, economic development and real estate.”

The two speakers at Thursday’s membership event were developer Kirk Humphreys, who was twice elected mayor of Oklahoma City and is the founding chairman of ULI Oklahoma, and Mike Malone, Northwest Arkansas director of Runway Group LLC, an entity controlled by Tom and Steuart Walton. They are the grandsons of Wal-Mart Stores founders Helen and Sam Walton and have taken a more high-profile interest in recent years in developing public-private quality of life initiatives.

Together, Humphreys and Malone touted the benefits of having a ULI branch in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s the best place I know to help you in your profession,” said Humphreys, chairman of real estate development firm The Humphreys Co. “It’s not just for real estate professionals. It’s for people who want to be where the action is.”

Malone, who spent 10 years as CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said where ULI fits in locally is to take Northwest Arkansas to the “next level.”

“I think that by bringing such a wide range of folks together – architects, designers, investors, bankers and other folks – we can really advance the conversation about innovative projects that meet the needs of our growing population,” he said. “And a more diverse population.”

During his remarks, Malone noted that 56% of the Northwest Arkansas population was not born in Arkansas, and the region is growing more diverse each day. Creating dynamic city centers that appeal to a wide range of residents looking for options will make Northwest Arkansas much stronger, he said.

As an example, Malone, who is a Fayetteville native, relayed a story about a recent interview he conducted with a prospective job applicant, with a strong resume, sterling references and a record of accomplishment.

“We loved her,” Malone said. “She was really an impressive person. And she’s from New York City. So she doesn’t own a car, doesn’t have car insurance. And she assures me she can drive, but she doesn’t even have a current driver’s license. So if we want to offer her a job, we have to have options for her – transportation options, living options. We are collecting people, and they are looking for options.”

Smith said there are several property tours scheduled in the coming months to drive interest in ULI Northwest Arkansas, and the organization is publicizing membership information through its Facebook page.