Bill Cunningham is a man committed to his company, their philosophy and the city he calls home, Richmond Hill.
This is an exciting story that I get to tell, a story about a dedicated man, a visionary and what he is achieving for Richmond Hill – the next steps to further impact the expansion and design of Henry Ford’s city. When Henry Ford visited this area in the 1920’s he visited a town the 20th century had bypassed. He improved the impoverished conditions he found by creating jobs and job training, schools, by improving health care, and building homes.
Those who call this special city home have a company, Rayonier, taking it to the next step in development. Over 5000 acres have been annexed to Richmond Hill and will be developed over a period of 20 plus years by Raydient Places, the real estate arm of Rayonier. The project includes property along Belfast Keller Road, Belfast River Road, and Harris Trail. Land for the new high school and elementary school, infrastructure ahead of development are part of this project.
This venture, this master plan, is headed by a man who understands the need for effective growth and is carefully charting that growth, working on creating a strong private public partnership with the city to work on this next piece of Ford History here in coastal Georgia.
Bill Cunningham is in charge of this incredible project, the necessary next phases of the Ford story to transform for what was all those years ago a sleepy town, now an historic one, to an even more incredible place to live, with plans for housing, recreation, trails with room to explore, parks, investment properties, a neighborhood center, active adult community, retail, helping bring the next part of our history, our growth to fruition as the next steps in the Ford legacy.
Bill and the company he represents, Rayonier, the parent company of Raydient Places, realize they have a perfect location for outdoor recreation, homes, business growth, healthcare and the continuation of excellent schools. The philosophy of wise investment means positive proactivity and a lifetime of impact on generations of people. This is what Raydient under Bill’s direction is charged to achieve.
How fortunate to have a man like this running such a vast and sophisticated project.
“This is not a job, I’m home, an outsider who’s become an insider.”
Bill realizes that in creating a special place he plays a vital role in enhancing Richmond Hill. Representing a single landowner, Rayonier, experienced in community development, he brings their knowledge and success to us. Seeing this city flourish as a strong community, protecting and enhancing its uniqueness are his goals.
Representative Ron Stephens also realizes how special this area is and was impressed with the fact a landowner, Rayonier, came up with a Master Plan, helped the city create a TAD (tax allocation district), taxed themselves for water, sewer, etc. “They wanted to pay for infrastructure instead of having that responsibility fall on our citizens. He found a way to make it happen. Bill Cunningham didn’t want to take credit, he felt there was no need for that.” Representative Stephens stressed he expressed himself without ever being forceful or heavy handed. He told me ”Bill is the best ‘connector of the dots’ I’ve ever met to get to the finished product which took overcoming obstacles, navigating, no frustration in ‘getting to the finish line’. He is by far the best from the start I’ve ever met.”
I realized while talking to Representative Stephens that it is the experience of others working with Bill that is his story. This is an individual who sees the importance of this city and has become integrated into it. This is more than a job. He has become entrenched in being part of bettering the community. “Do it right” might be an apt motto for him. He looks at the big picture, the multi-dimensions that create a better community not only in the future but now. He sees the opportunity for growth coupled with protecting Richmond Hill and its environs incredible historic resources, the commercial corridors that surround it, its fine schools, and hospitable people.
Russ Carpenter, mayor of Richmond Hill, immediately volunteered what is said over and over again about Bill: “Bill brings to Richmond Hill an experience like no one else. His years in Florida with Disney, developing the much admired Celebration community, gives Bill a much different perspective on what a neighborhood can be. Bill’s exemplary integrity also puts city partners at ease since the finer points of a deal will be followed to the letter. He is truly an asset to our small town.”
Scott Allison is the assistant city manager and director of planning and zoning for Richmond Hill.
He has had a relationship with Bill since Bill first came here with Rayonier over six years ago.
“I’ve gotten to know Bill both professionally and personally during that time. His experience surely shows his credibility in the profession, but what sets Bill apart is his passion. He is ‘all in’ with his commitment to create a special place that will better our community for years to come.” His involvement in our city on a personal as well as on a business level runs deep. He has become integrated, entrenched, in life here. He willingly provides unsolicited council, is always there for others, unasked.
Kathryn Johnson, CEO of the Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, told me she finds him a genuine, authentic and aman whose humor ‘keeps you on your toes’. Kathryn said, “I am thankful to have him as a board member, who leads and supports us so that we can support business. He is genuine about his support for Richmond Hill and always thoughtful in his response to new ideas.”
Bill has worked on amazing mixed use projects, commercial, hospital, industrial, commerce, housing. As I write this I think of my statements earlier in this article about Henry Ford’s goals, in many ways the same.
We are most fortunate having Bill manage this project. His company has developed, through his efforts and outreach, a close working relationship with the City.
Rayonier donated land to the City for infrastructure that we needed for schools, analyzed opportunity and is strongly committed here beyond the job.
As I interviewed and listened to others beyond those I quoted here, it is clear Bill participates wholeheartedly both in business and as a neighbor.
Comments in this regard from others are expressed to me again and again because his is a story of trust, competency and consistency of philosophy and knowledge that speaks to partnership with the city and with the people of Richmond Hill.
Bill said when we talked, “This is not a job, I’m home.”
Welcome Bill, glad you’re here.
Georgene Brazer is chairwoman of the Richmond Hill Downtown Development Authority and an unabashed supporter of all things Richmond Hill. You can reach her at georgenebrazer@gmail.