Walking down the street in Deep Ellum, it becomes immediately clear that one is not in Kansas any longer.
The neighborhood thrums with life; new bars, restaurants, and shops face sidewalks filled with people. The vibrant urban feel is maintained in a neighborhood with a long history as a cultural hotspot and entertainment district, creating a setting that feels “gritty, not dangerous,” as Stephanie Keller Hudiburg puts it.
Hudiburg was recently hired as the executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation, a neighborhood nonprofit that has played an active role in the iconic Dallas district’s transformation, and its current boom. The Foundation has been dedicated to turning Deep Ellum into a mixed-use neighborhood. That means helping local businesses by supplying moveable bollards to help with loading and unloading deliveries, capping parking levels and making streets more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and promoting the current entertainment scene while welcoming new residential construction.
“Whether it’s making wider sidewalks and narrower streets, creating passenger unloading zones for Ubers, or linking a bike trail with the larger Santa Fe Trail, we work to get stuff off the city’s hands,” says Foundation President Jon Hetzel, who led the search for the nonprofit’s new director.
The Foundation has, in recent years, undertaken community-building efforts under Hudiburg’s predecessor, Jessica Burnham, who now leads SMU’s Master of Arts in Design and Innovation program. These initiatives have ranged from temporarily turning Crowdus Street into a public gathering space to hiring private security during peak weekend hours.
Hudiburg’s background lent itself to her joining the team. A St. Louis native, she has spent most of her professional career on the East Coast, working in the Massachusetts State Legislature and in Washington, D.C. After studying at Georgetown University for her master’s, she moved to Dallas and began working at The Real Estate Council as the director of programs and partnerships.
The Foundation’s efforts in developing Deep Ellum real estate—as well as its role as a conduit between the businesses, locals, and the city—made her an appropriate fit for the role. Hudiburg says a walk through the neighborhood was what helped convince her to support the nonprofit.
“When I took my first grand tour, there was a surprise around every corner,” Hudiburg says. “What drew me most of all to [the Foundation] was how it built a hub, a connection point, for the entire neighborhood.”
The makeover of Deep Ellum has been a balancing act between maintaining its identity, which made it a popular favorite in the first place, and making the neighborhood welcoming to new visitors, residents, and businesses. At times, that’s meant opposing special use permits for troublesome businesses.
“It’s a balancing act. You have to take the good with the bad,” Hudiburg says. “Improve, not replace. It’s a symbiotic relationship. People want to live near a bar [but not experience] the effects of a bar scene.”
Over the next few months, Hudiburg says she’ll be planning an ambitious future for the Foundation, talking to people with different viewpoints and highlighting Deep Ellum along the way.
“Different perspectives are healthy,” she says.
Asked to describe their personal hopes for Deep Ellum in the next few years, both Hudiburg and Hetzel rally around the idea of mural tours to highlight the “new murals we get every week.” Does Hudiburg have a favorite spot in the neighborhood?
“The street vibe,” she says tactfully. “A law firm can be right next door to a daycare or a bar next to a yoga studio. I’m always seeing things I hadn’t previously noticed at first glance. It’s part of that special character that makes us great.”