Jessica Burnham brought a fresh perspective to Deep Ellum when she assumed the role of executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation in 2016. Before leaving the post earlier this summer, she led the way for Deep Ellum’s public safety program and worked to unite the disparate communities that live, work, drink and build within the neighborhood. Now, her successor is poised to capitalize on that momentum, and she has the expertise to help DEF keep pace with a district in the midst of near-perpetual growth.
Stephanie Keller Hudiburg was named the new executive director for DEF on June 20. Burnham left to assume the directorship of Southern Methodist University’s master's program in design and innovation. Hudiburg moved to Dallas about three years ago and worked for The Real Estate Council as director of programs and partnerships. The shift back to a more community-focused role was too good to pass up.
“Getting back to my roots of working specifically with and in and for a particular community was certainly enticing to me,” she says. “There are a lot of things that are impressive or exciting about Dallas, but it was the neighborhoods like Deep Ellum that made me feel like I could really live and stay here.”
Her roots first took hold in the halls of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where Hudiburg worked her way up from research analyst to being the chief of staff to Linda Forry, who was then a state representative and chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses. In this capacity, Hudiburg says, she worked with a small team to address everything from constituent services to local transit issues. Her time under Forry, a Haitian-American, also brought her in contact with the local Haitian community as well as various neighborhood associations.
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Hudiburg’s political career reached its apex after she became a White House intern during the Obama administration. She led research projects and provided support in the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Office of Monetary Affairs. A triple threat with experience in real estate, economics and community development, Hudiberg’s experience looks to be exactly what Deep Ellum will need as more money and people pour in.
“My main interest and kind of my question or curiosity throughout my career has been community development,” she says. “For me, that kind of question of ‘What does it take to create, build, sustain a community?’ is just endlessly fascinating for me, so I really focused my career learning about that [and] working in those kinds of spaces.”
That passion for seeing communities thrive is paramount for Hudiburg’s new job. Keeping Deep Ellum’s history and feel intact and bolstering the public safety program are among DEF’s immediate goals. And with the recent early renewal of Deep Ellum’s Public Improvement District, DEF’s role in the neighborhood has been further bolstered. The purpose of the renewal, which extends Deep Ellum’s PID to 2025, was to refine the boundaries of the district and increase its 2019 budget by nearly 40 percent, to the tune of $625,706.
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“At this point for me coming in, they’ve built a really strong foundation, but now it’s about … how is it that we’re attacking and preparing for really, what I see as the challenges of growth for the neighborhood moving forward?” Hudiburg says. “Whether that’s congestion, public safety, keeping it maintained, because it is facing those challenges from all the success it’s had. So how do we keep its unique character and sustain it over the long term?”
With less than a week on the job, Hudiburg’s long-term plans have yet to be seen, but she notes that transportation and infrastructure improvements will be among her top priorities. In the meantime, she says she’s been meeting with community figures while acquainting herself with DEF’s ongoing projects. She says Philip Honoré, DEF’s public safety manager, is looking into how Deep Ellum’s infrastructure can better affect public safety in the area.
With Hudibiurg’s proven ability to manage monetary resources and coordinate with governmental bodies, as well as DEF’s boosted budget, these big-ticket improvements are likely to be rolled out smoother than ever. And through further cooperation with the Deep Ellum Community Association, residents, and business and property owners, Hudiburg says, programs such as the community garden and the outdoor market will continue to flourish.
“Those are things that really improve local quality of life and make it a place that people want to be,” she says. “But at the same time what makes Deep Ellum fun and unique and great is the mix of all these different uses, so you might have a resident that you don’t realize lives right next to a couple bars, or you might have a couple of lofts that are right next to more industrial spaces. ... So how do you balance the wonderful things that people want to be able to live near and walk to as amenities but also as a resident you might look at a little differently?”