Former ULI Foundation Chairman and longtime ULI leader James J. Curtis III, managing partner at Bristol Group, a San Francisco–based real estate investment and development firm, passed away June 30 after a sustained illness. He was 65.
Known for being intensely passionate about his interests—including ULI—Curtis is remembered by his ULI friends and fellow members as an individual of integrity, high intellect, and compassion, and who was firmly committed to the Institute’s mission. A ULI member for nearly 40 years, ULI Trustee for 20 years, and the ULI Foundation chairman from July 2012 through June 2014, Curtis constantly championed ULI’s work to improve communities as a cause well worth increased philanthropic support from the Foundation. During remarks to attendees at ULI’s 2013 Fall Meeting, he said, “As ULI members, every one of us has a unique ability, working individually and collectively, to make a tangible, lasting difference in people’s day-to-day lives. By being part of ULI, we are embracing a cause that is noble, transformative, and profound. And that cause is to promote responsible land use to help current and future generations achieve a better quality of life and greater economic productivity. Every gift to the Foundation represents a way to give individuals, communities, and regions better choices that make a better world.”
Most recently, Curtis worked with current ULI Foundation Chairman Douglas D. Abbey and other Institute leaders on a campaign to significantly increase the Foundation’s support for ULI’s mission-oriented work, including efforts to increase diversity within the industry, increase sustainability throughout the built environment, enhance the Institute’s education programs, and expand the Advisory Services program. “He encouraged his fellow ULI members to make a visible difference in our communities, and he was tireless in asking members to support the Foundation,” Abbey says. “He was a great inspiration to many in ULI, and he will be missed by his many friends.”
Geoffrey L. Stack, who succeeded Curtis as Foundation chairman, notes that Curtis remained intent on his goal of improving people’s quality of life and economic productivity, and that he saw in ULI a way to achieve it. “That was his ultimate objective with the Foundation, with ULI, and with what he wanted to do in the world,” Stack says. “Jim showed me through his actions what the terms quality, integrity, honesty, and giving back really mean. He lived his life that way. He was a transformative force at ULI, the Foundation, and within our industry. He was regarded as an incredibly intelligent individual who really knew his business, and he accomplished great things. He leaves an extraordinary legacy for all of us to emulate.”
ULI Global Chairman Owen D. Thomas notes that Curtis was tremendously influential in the Foundation’s growth over the years. “He believed fervently in fostering a culture of philanthropy to expand ULI’s mission-focused work, because he was passionate about our Institute’s potential as a game-changing organization,” Thomas says. “We all benefited from his energy, enthusiasm, and leadership.”
In addition to being a ULI Foundation chairman, Foundation Benefactor, and ULI Trustee, Curtis served the Institute in many capacities, including 35 years of involvement in the product council network. He was a devoted member of the Small-Scale Development Council, and he was a featured speaker at meetings of that council as well as the Capital Markets Council and the Mixed-Use and Multi-Use Development Council. His extensive volunteerism also included service as chairman of the Council Chairs Advisory Group, the Hines Student Design Competition, and the Awards for Excellence Management Committee, as well as membership on the Program Committee, the Policy and Practice Committee, the Governance and Nominating Committee, and ULI San Francisco’s Governance Committee.
“I consider it a privilege to have known Jim. He was one of the finest real estate minds in this country, but what is more important is that he was always eager to share his knowledge,” says James D. Klingbeil Sr., who preceded Curtis as ULI Foundation chairman. “He epitomized ULI at its finest hour, and he was always willing to give of his time and talent. We have lost a great man.”
“Jim embodied the philanthropic spirit of ULI—not only in his actions, but in his dedication to making ULI better across the globe, with the hope of improving cities and people’s lives around the world globe,” says immediate past ULI Global Chairman Thomas W. Toomey. “He was an extraordinary ULI member and supporter throughout his many years of service. It is sad to see his life journey and his ULI journey come to a close. He will always be thought of as a great soul.”
Curtis was keenly interested in the role of infrastructure as a key component of thriving communities; from 2005 through 2013, he served on the Institute’s Infrastructure Advisory Committee. During that time, he generously supported ULI activities to foster the integration of transportation planning and land use planning. The ULI/Curtis Regional Infrastructure Initiative, which spanned 2008 through 2011, involved the Institute’s content team collaborating with four district councils to design and implement ambitious programs addressing regional infrastructure challenges. Through the initiative, ULI sought to improve infrastructure decision-making by linking land use with regional transportation and sustainable development considerations in Florida, Chicago, Minnesota, and Seattle.
“Jim lived and breathed the values of ULI, and he shared his time and wisdom with members and the next generation of industry leaders unconditionally,” says ULI Global Chief Executive Officer W. Edward Walter. “He was smart, funny, committed, and the picture of a leader within ULI and the industry. He will be sorely missed.”
Curtis’s introduction to ULI came during his graduate work in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied under legendary real estate professor James Graaskamp, who incorporated the Institute’s education materials into his courses. Graaskamp’s teachings instilled in Curtis a view of real estate as being highly influential on people’s lives—a principle he applied at Bristol Group, which he cofounded in 1980. The firm has acquired, repositioned, and developed over $3 billion worth of real estate in select markets throughout the United States.
Bristol Group’s real estate portfolio consists of industrial, self-storage, office, retail, multifamily, and alternative-use properties. Of the firm’s many successes, Curtis was particularly proud of the redevelopment of the former Unocal Oil headquarters in downtown Los Angeles into Los Angeles Center Studios, a major film and television studio and entertainment campus; and of the firm’s involvement in the transformation of a dilapidated area in Washington, D.C., into the now-thriving North of Massachusetts Avenue (NOMA) neighborhood.
Curtis was a lifetime member of the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate at the University of Wisconsin, and in 1997, he received the Graaskamp Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin Business School. In 2008, he received the Landauer/White Lifetime Achievement Award from the Counselors of Real Estate.
He is survived by his wife, Melodie Duke; his parents, Clare Curtis and Jim Curtis; his sisters, Kelly Gibbel, Mary Mahoney, and Anne Metzger; his brothers, Rob and Tom Curtis; and 18 nephews and nieces.
Memorial services are pending and contributions in Curtis’s honor may be made to St. Anthony’s Foundation at www.stanthonysf.org.