The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Hunt gave $35 million for land purchase

Ray Hunt, a prominent Dallas businessman and member of the SMU Board of Trustees, gave the university $35 million in November 2005 to purchase Park Cities Plaza, the shopping center at Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway adjacent to the campus.

According to depositions taken Aug. 3 and 7 from the previous owners of the shopping center, Hunt wired the money to a title company Nov. 15, closing the sale.

The depositions were shared with The Daily Campus by Gary Vodicka- who arranged for them as part of his legal battle with SMU over the University Gardens complexí-and was present when they were taken. The depositions also revealed that university officials indicated during depositions that the public policy center portion of the proposed Bush Presidential Library is designated for the shopping center site.

University President R. Gerald Turner confirmed Hunt’s role in the purchase.

“Ray Hunt made available the money to purchase the property. The center (now) is owned by the university’s Peruna Properties.”

Hunt was unavailable for comment, but the senior vice president for Hunt Consolidated and fellow Board of Trustees member, Jeanne Phillips, said she “couldn’t comment on any philanthropic donation and I can’t confirm nor deny if it was done.”

She said all SMU Board members have agreed not to comment on any matter relating to the library.

Turner said the shopping center was “one of the few pieces of property west of Central Expressway that we didn’t have.”

The two people deposed were Katherine Griffin and Paul Collins, who are siblings and beneficiaries of the Tobin trust, which previously owned the Park Cities Plaza. Their mother, Ann Collins, is the co-trustee on the trust that was left to her by her father, Donald Tobin, according to the deposition records.

According to Vodicka, Griffin said in her deposition that SMU pestered her mother and caused her family to spend nearly $500,000 in legal fees over a four-year period that began in August 2001 and ended with the sale of the property in November 2005.

SMU’s vice president of legal affairs, Leon Bennett, said he never directly met with the beneficiaries of the trust or the co-trustee. He said he dealt only with representatives of the family and didn’t see or hear anything that he viewed or interpreted as harassment.

Vodicka said, according to the depositions, SMU had offered to buy the property from the family for $16 million, but the family refused. A counteroffer of $29 million was refused by SMU.

At that point, according to Vodicka, the depositions indicate SMU threatened to sue the family, saying that their property was causing environmental contamination at the Mrs. Baird’s factory site across Mockingbird. The university notified officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, and requested an investigation. Vodicka says he has the certified letters to the agencies as part of his filing brief.

The family drilled test wells on the shopping center site and it was later determined that they did not cause the environmental damage at the Mrs. Baird’s site, according to the depositions.

Vodicka said, in the deposition, Griffin said the legal battles were draining to her aging mother and they finally agreed to sell the property — believing that the site would be used for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

Griffin said in her deposition, according to Vodicka, that Bennett told them and officials at Bank of America as early as December 2002 that SMU intended to use the site for the library and its public/foreign policy component. Bennett also told the trust members not to disclose the information and to keep it secret, according to Vodicka’s account of the deposition.

Bennett confirmed that he did have dealings with officials from Bank of America and representatives of the trust, but did not elaborate on any details of the conversations.

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