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Meet the Woman Tasked With Moving Deep Ellum Into the Future

Stephanie Keller Hudiburg heads the Deep Ellum Foundation at a pivotal time for the neighborhood.
By  |
Shane Kislack

Why you need to know her: Because in June, Stephanie Keller Hudiburg began running the organization that’s tasked with shepherding Deep Ellum into the future, during one of the most pivotal moments in the neighborhood’s history. Deep Ellum, which lies east of downtown Dallas and has roots in music, manufacturing, and as a center for Dallas’ black community, is growing at an unprecedented rate and opening a seemingly never-ending string of high-rise apartments and new businesses. The neighborhood now has about 1,700 apartment units on the ground, and about 1,200 forthcoming, according to Downtown Dallas Inc.

Stakeholders in the neighborhood, both old and new, are asking the same questions: “How do you maintain the character of the neighborhood with this level of explosive growth? How much is it possible to control that growth, and how much is desirable?” says Jon Hetzel, board president of the Deep Ellum Foundation and partner at Madison Partners, one of the largest landlords in the area.

Although the Deep Ellum Foundation isn’t the only keeper of the neighborhood’s soul, Hetzel calls it a “central nexus” to connect property owners, business owners, city officials, safety officers, and adjacent neighborhoods. The nonprofit foundation also manages Deep Ellum’s Public Improvement District (PID) and runs point on everything from safety and hiring off-duty police officers to sidewalk cleanliness and landscape maintenance. The foundation had a total operating budget of about $293,000 in 2015 and $391,000 in 2016 (the latest year available), according to tax records. Hetzel says DEF’s current operating budget is between $500,000 and $1 million annually, bolstered by growing donations, mainly from businesses and landlords.

Hudiburg brings experience in many key aspects of the foundation’s work—public policy, community development, and fundraising. Jim Rogers, president of the Deep Ellum Community Association and DEF board member, recalls his first impression of Hudiburg’s background: “I said, ‘Damn, she’s got a resume to die for!’”

Hudiburg’s previous three years were spent at The Real Estate Council. As director of programs and partnerships, she connected players in commercial real estate to stakeholders such as elected officials or nonprofits through policies and programs that advance causes that are important to the industry. Before that, Hudiburg worked in public policy in Washington, D.C. and in community development for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. “I started at state and local level and knew I wanted to end up there,” she says. The biggest takeaway from her previous experience? Proactivity. “You have to be proactive in public service, because, if you’re not, you’re only reacting every day,” she says. “How much easier would it all be if we could solve this upstream?”

The Deep Ellum Foundation is working on that very thing, but it’s a tough balance when its PID, which is based on the neighborhood’s tax assessment, is growing by about 25 percent annually but resources are still determined by previous years’ assessments. “Our PID resources are still catching up a little bit,” Hudiburg says. That’s why DEF solicits donations for a public safety arm, which is 75 percent funded through donations, according to Hetzel. A new public safety manager, Phil Honoré, was hired this past spring, and a new marketing coordinator, Micah Bires, joined in July, about a month after Hudiburg. The trio will steer the neighborhood’s new guiding vision, which will come out in conjunction with its new service plan in January 2019.

Hudiburg takes over for Jessica Burnham, who left to run Southern Methodist University’s Master of Arts in Design and Innovation program. She had served as the foundation’s first executive director after the board split responsibilities held by volunteer and paid staff. “Separating the president from executive director, which had a lot to do with budgetary constraints before, is a valuable thing,” Hetzel says. “Having a real, full-time executive director with a volunteer board oversight gives [the foundation] a level of day-to-day direction we feel is important to take us to the next level.”

Since taking the helm, Hudiburg has entered a “phase of learning,” as she calls it, which includes one-on-ones with each of her 12 board members and getting to know Deep Ellum. That background will help her be a stronger connection point for the neighborhood. “A facilitator in the community space needs constant diligence, communication, and clarity on what roles are and what needs are,” Hudiburg says. “We’re just at the beginning of all this growth, but we want it to be sustainable growth.”

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