If you think all the prime beachfront property in Florida has been developed, think again. About 30 miles of the state's most scenic gulf frontage has remained practically untouched until now.
What will happen to this coastal real estate, as well as to 250 miles fronting inland waterways and lakes and the remainder of the 1 million acres the St. Joe Co. owns in the Florida Panhandle, is obviously of great interest to those in the area.
But the rest of Florida and those in other beachfront areas are also watching closely because Peter Rummell, chief executive of the St. Joe Co., is known for his innovation and wide experience. His credits include Hilton Head, S.C., and Celebration, the built-from-scratch Disney community in central Florida.
In two interviews with the Monitor, combined here, Mr. Rummell spoke about the distinctive character of northwest Florida, his company'splans for transforming the area, and the new 499-acre WaterColor development.
How different is northwest Florida from the rest of the state?
Many people from outside the state say, "I know Florida. I've been to Walt Disney World or Miami, Palm Beach, or maybe even Fort Myers," but there's another whole world here that people haven't seen. [The topography] tends to have more roll [instead of being flat]. The beaches are different, too. They have a snow-white, sugar sand that you don't see anyplace else in Florida. The blue water is like that in the Bahamas, creating a dramatic kind of beach scene that you don't see in Fort Lauderdale. It's also very rural, yet it's the vacation area of choice for what I call the middle South, which runs in an arc from Houston to Atlanta. There are millions of people who have had second- and third-generation histories growing up [vacationing] on the beaches of west Florida.
To what degree do you envision creating real communities, not just resorts?
Because we are community planners by definition, we will help that along more than in places that built up more accidentally. Cape Cod, for example, started as a resort area and developed in a fairly non-planned way. We have an opportunity, over a 20-year period, to make this a little better experience than if it just happened randomly.
How will planned communities like WaterColor resemble Seaside?
WaterColor is next to Seaside, and eventually, I think the two will kind of blend together. The architecture is going to be of the same vernacular - not exactly the same, but the same sort of feel.
How can you improve on Seaside?
It's about the little things, the street graphics, how you handle curbs, how you handle pavement, how you handle offstreet parking, and how you get in and out of commercial spaces.
How much influence will your experience developing Celebration for Disney have on this area?
Probably a lot. Working for Disney is about place-making. It's about creating a total experience and attention to detail. Is WaterColor a knockoff of Celebration? No. Is it influenced by it? You bet.
How can you make distinct communities that feel natural?
That's the ultimate measure of success. The rap Disney always takes on stuff is it's too planned. We tried very hard to keep Celebration from looking that way, even though we did plan it in totality. There are some fundamental rules about the way things have grown up in towns, about the way uses have been mixed together, and we tried to reflect some of that, to let there be a certain randomness in the way things happen. In places that have grown over time you find a mix of product types and a mix of uses. All the rich, big houses are not necessarily in one place and all of the apartments in another. In real places they tend to get mushed together. That's the way towns grow. I think Celebration is reasonably successful at that, and we are trying to continue to push that envelope.
What is being done to encompass all sorts of people, including young people and families?
We are paying less attention to golf, and thinking more about what people do as families. What you find is that recreation centers and bike paths and swimming programs and good pools are more important to a family than a Jack Nicklaus golf course.
How do you turn a vacation place into a living place?
Education and health care, schools and hospitals. They are the underpinnings to anything that is going to take on a year-round character.
Are you going to be able to attract a full spectrum of income levels?
The first housing on the market at WaterColor is, by the standards of this area, fairly expensive, with probably nothing under $300,000. But very quickly we will add to that spectrum, add things for people across a much broader range. That's part of town-building. But ... we're increasingly going to need workers who can't afford (upscale) housing, so we're in the process of selling some sites to apartment developers so that they can come in and do market-rate apartments.