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Thursday, March 06, 2014
Hunter, Stephanie Hunt to turn downtown Masonic Temple into center aimed at solving Dallas’ ‘biggest challenges’
Hunter and Stephanie Hunt with, at right, Geoffrey Orsak, formerly the dean of SMU's Lyle School of Engineering
After a month spent wondering who purchased the Masonic Temple on Harwood Street in downtown Dallas, the wait is over: The building has been purchased by Hunter and Stephanie Hunt, who plan on turning the 73-year-old, 43,000-square-foot temple into “a hub of creativity and collaboration.”
During an interview with The Dallas Morning News in March, Stephanie Hunt, a Dallas native, said she was eying downtown locations to build the Urban Innovation Lab for Youth, which would serve as “an open-access space where kids can collaborate or experiment together in solving problems — a place where they can feel safe to fail, iterate and evolve their thinking.” The lab will now be just one component of the building’s makeover, says Brown.
Click to enlarge: The Masonic temple on Harwood has looked more or less the same since it was built in 1941.
The Hunts now envision the space as “a building that could serve as a collaborative space for multiple nonprofits,” says Brown. “It could be individual nonprofits, academic organizations. But it’s going to deal with solving urban problems. This building adds a mix of the creative: How do we solve some of the biggest challenges in our city, and not just from a charitable standpoint? How do you create viable marketplace solutions?”
Brown is quick to note that the purchase of the building is just the beginning of what could be a six-month-long (or longer) process defining its ultimate use. The Hunts, both in their mid-40s, have been looking for space for more than a year — in East Dallas, the Cedars, the West End. When the Masonic Temple became available, they bought first with the intention of filling in the blanks later. After all, Brown reminds, they have the money, the patience and the vision. Hunter, after all, is president and CEO of Hunt Consolidated Energy and the son of oilman Ray Hunt. He and Stephanie also established the Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in 2009, which hosts the annual Engineering and Humanity Week on the Hilltop.
They settled on the temple, says Brown, because of its location near the Dallas Farmers Market (which is under the auspices of private owners planning a $64-million redo), 508 Park Avenue (which the First Presbyterian Church is turning into the Museum of Street Culture) and several older buildings, including the Lone Star Gas Lofts, being transformed into residential spaces. “Change is happening” in that part of downtown, says Brown, so what better place to put an endeavor devoted to it? And, it’s an enormous space with myriad possibilities — everything from office space to performance space. But it needs work, which buys them the time to define its use.
“We gotta find it,” says Brown. “Stephanie and Hunter have chosen to make an investment and are considerate of the evolutionary nature of this effort. You can’t bake it. You can’t will it. You have to have dialogue, and sometimes things present themselves in a different order. The building became available, and they were forward-thinking to want to invest and then think about how to fill it. That’s one of the great things about visionary Dallas leaders and philanthropists: They make the space to do what’s best for our city. This is something that will be evolving over the next few months. And the building needs improvements — the basic kind, and the kind that will make it a more public building.”
In March, Stephanie Hunt told The Dallas Morning News that Southern Methodist University, Paul Quinn College, bcWORKSHOP, the University of Oxford and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had signed on as project partners. Brown said the building will consider and welcome all comers, suggesting it might become something like The Meadows Foundation, but with its sights aimed squarely at solving some of what ails Dallas — “from job creation to affordable housing to food distribution systems,” says Brown. “For starters".