For 25 Years, Diane Hornquist Has Been Hunt Realty’s Go-To Problem Solver
As nearly 300 Dallas business and government leaders gathered at 2323 North Field Street just north of downtown on Oct. 10 for the official groundbreaking of Goldman Sachs’ new $500 million, 800,000 square-foot complex, Diane Hornquist sat on the front row just absorbing it all.
John Waldron, the CEO of the global financial giant was there, describing the new building as “a landmark development” that “binds Goldman Sachs” to Dallas with promises to expand the firm’s presence in the region. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Hunt Realty Investments CEO Chris Kleinert were among the dignitaries who spoke.
While Hornquist never took the stage or made any public comments, nearly every person involved in the 11-acre North End mixed use development readily confirm that the project five years in the planning is only becoming a reality because of the thousands of hours of negotiations, due diligence, legal strategizing and document drafting and review by Hornquist and the team at Hunt Realty.
“This deal involved a complicated build-to-suit lease, entitlement work, master development work, a joint venture, a mortgage loan and a mezzanine loan, and Diane led and was deeply involved in all aspects of it,” said Jeremy Gott, a partner in the Dallas office of Baker Botts. “I can easily say that without Diane’s leadership and tenacity, it would have been next to impossible to have successfully concluded this transaction in a timely manner — or perhaps at all.”
Gott said Hornquist worked simultaneously with “no less than 10 separate outside lawyers at three different law firms in the negotiation and successful consummation of the deal,” which happened to occur “in the middle of one of the most challenging investment and financing markets of recent history.”
“[Diane] worked diligently, at all hours and right alongside outside counsel, to make certain that each piece of the deal was moving forward,” Gott said. “She remained calm and steadfast when things looked dire, and her creative approaches to solving problems were key in getting the deal done.”
Hornquist calls the groundbreaking of the NorthEnd development one of the best days in her 25 years at Hunt Realty.
“It was kind of like Thanksgiving in that the whole family — and all the branches — showed up for the celebration,” she said. “It was extremely nice to shed the guarded countenances we had to showcase during negotiations and simply smile and share stories as we stood on the site we had worked so hard to bring to this point of shovel-ready.”
“It was a heavy lift for a long time,” Hornquist said. “Being a part of Hunt Realty putting a legacy stamp there is a tremendous victory.”
Citing her extraordinary real estate law work in 2023 and for the past many years, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s DFW Chapter and The Texas Lawbook present Hunt Realty Investments General Counsel Diane Hornquist with the 2023 DFW Corporate Counsel Award for General Counsel of the Year for a Solo Legal Department.
ACC-DFW and The Lawbook will honor Hornquist and the other recipients of the 2023 DFW Corporate Counsel Awards in a ceremony at the George W. Bush Institute on Jan. 25.
“Diane is very intelligent, thoughtful, practical and well organized,” said Jackson Walker partner George Dunlap. “She has the complete trust of the Hunt business team who are very deferential to her. Diane does a great job of keeping everyone on point and navigating all of the issues which arise or could arise between the different aspects of the transaction.”
Jeanne Katz, a shareholder in Winstead’s real estate development practice group, said Hornquist gets “in the trenches with you as you are working through the complicated issues” that Hunt Realty faces in its transactions.
“One of Diane’s greatest strengths is her ability to thoughtfully maneuver through complex and often heated negotiations,” Katz said. “Even when Diane is rejecting a position offered by the other side, the message is delivered in a productive way and in a manner that facilitates productive negotiations.”
Hornquist, a 1994 graduate of the SMU Dedman School of Law, was born in Tampa. Her mother stayed at home while her father was a senior manager at different companies. The family moved with each of her father’s new jobs, finally settling in Kansas City when her dad was an executive for Western Auto.
“I’ve been to lots of NASCAR races in my time to root for Darrell Waltrip, who drove the Western Auto car,” she told The Lawbook in an interview.
While Hornquist had no lawyers in her family, several relatives, including her mom and dad, “could see my potential as a lawyer.”
“I likely would never have considered the legal career path without that encouragement,” she said. “All the lawyers I knew from TV were criminal defense or otherwise litigators, and that was not appealing to me at all.”
In 1990, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from Texas Christian University.
“Honestly, I had no immediate fire in my belly to pursue a job in investment banking or finance,” she said. “The classes were interesting, but they didn’t really translate into a career path that made sense to me at the time.”
After earning her law degree from SMU, she joined Jackson Walker, where she practiced real estate law for five years.
“Jackson Walker was a wonderful training ground, and I was fortunate to have more than one person I considered a mentor,” she said. “That said, I did not feel that long term I wanted to be at a firm. I was quasi-passively looking for in-house opportunities when I ran across a print ad soliciting candidates for an in-house real estate role.”
The advertisement stated that an unidentified business sought a junior real estate attorney for an in-house position. Hornquist submitted her resume and application and was interviewed by Ray Hunt himself.
Hornquist joined Hunt Realty in April 1999.
“My immediate focus was jumping in to oversee early development of Sharyland Plantation, a 6,000-acre land holding that would eventually ripen into a thriving South Texas community with residential, commercial and industrial components with its own home-grown utility company,” said Hornquist, who noted that the power company was Sharyland Utilities, which was pioneered by Hunt’s energy team.
During her 25 years with Hunt Realty, Hornquist has worked a host of major projects, including significant contributions on the joint venture with Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas in 2009 called Akard Street Partners, which was a $2 billion investment with assets in various markets throughout the U.S.
In 2016, Hunt Realty sold its stake in Akard Street, which left Hornquist searching for a new role within the company.
“While I had worked on the Akard Street investments over the years, I had also continued to devote significant amounts of time to Hunt Realty’s remainder portfolio of assets, as well as some corporate real estate outside of the Hunt Realty domain, such as ranch assets, the corporate office campus and hangar leases,” she said. “During 2016, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be doing after the sale closed.”
Hornquist said she paid “close attention as strategic decisions were being made involving HRI so that I could evaluate the possibility of staying in my then-current role.”
Near the end of 2016, she had conversations with Kleinert and David Hernandez (who was Hunt Consolidated’s GC at the time) about the future of HRI and her potential role going forward.
“I remember at the time we discussed the idea of the potential for ‘legacy impact’ in connection with redevelopment opportunities for North End and Reunion,” she said. “Now, those plans for North End and Reunion are both coming to life, and it is a very busy and exciting time for the company.”
In 2018, Hunt Realty promoted Hornquist from associate general counsel to general counsel. In 2021, the company gave her the title senior vice president.
“The Akard Street investment platform sale has been truly pivotal for HRI in the current era,” she said. “The transaction was financially beneficial, but more than that [it] reflected an important turning point for the company back to its local Dallas roots. Because of the sale, HRI was well-positioned in 2017 when the 2,500- acre Bert Fields land holdings in Frisco became available for acquisition.”
“HRI worked diligently to put together the sponsor and investor teams to acquire this impressive and well-located assemblage, and then to pursue necessary entitlements through the City of Frisco,” she said, noting that the 2019 hiring of Colin Fitzgibbons, Hunt Realty’s current president, was significant.
“Even through Covid, HRI has been blowing and going ever since,” she said. “2021 brought us into dialogue with Goldman Sachs about a new Dallas headquarters, and with relentless and consistent forward progress we finally broke ground at North End in October 2023.”
Katz, the Winstead lawyer, said “Diane’s navigation of the North End transaction” was an extraordinary achievement.
“Involving multiyear process with countless layers of business teams, attorneys, bankers, third-party advisors and the City of Dallas, this transaction has a little bit of everything including government incentives, zoning and land use matters, a major single-tenant build-to-suit lease, a joint venture with a major financial institution, a complicated mixed-use condominium regime, which includes a large park area, complicated construction and design matters, and a construction loan which closed at a time [when] loans of this nature were scarce,” Katz said. “To say this transaction was a complicated is an understatement, and a successful result would not have been possible without Diane running the deal.”
Hornquist said the groundbreaking ceremony was an opportunity for her to meet in person many of the lawyers and dealmakers she had been negotiating with via phone or Microsoft Teams for a few years.
“For Hunt’s part, it was heartwarming to see the family there, most of the Hunt Realty team top to bottom, as well as more than couple retirees,” she said. “If you know Hunt culture at all, you know that we covet the fact that we are ‘standing on the shoulders’ of all the contributors who have come before us, and that we celebrate victories as a team.
“The shovels were super fancy with shiny metal blades,” Hornquist said. “Laying my hands on one in a picture was a first-time thing for me. And I stood out with my beige suit in a sea of dark suits. Hope I didn’t breach any fashion rules.”
Hornquist also praised her partner, Michael, and daughter, Ellie, a high school sophomore, who she said “have endured the sacrifices of quality time that have been required for me to pursue my work passions and most especially the recent commitments to get the North End/Goldman Sachs projects capitalized and closed.”
Foley Lardner partner Sadie Fitzpatrick said Hornquist is passionate and collaborative about her work and the specific projects that she tackles.
“It is clear in working with Diane that she has passion for Hunt and real estate,” Fitzpatrick said. “She is eager to mentor Hunt and legal colleagues, progress the Hunt priority, tackle the latest legal question, etc. Even during those periods when she is burning the candle at both ends, the positive energy resulting from Diane’s passion is present and is contagious and motivating to others around her.”
The Goldman Sachs campus project in the North End was not Hornquist’s only active major development project.
Hornquist has also played a critical role in the planning and development of the Fields Development — Hunt Realty’s $2 billion, 2,544-acre mixed-use project in Frisco just off the Dallas North Tollway. The project is five-times larger than the Legacy West Urban Village, which is eight miles north in Plano, and will be the home to a planned Ritz Carlton Hotel.
“Diane has been heavily involved with this deal since an investment group led by Hunt Realty acquired the Fields Ranch in 2018 and has been the principal manager of all legal aspects of the deal since then, including the negotiation of numerous joint venture agreements, sale agreements, entitlement packages and master planning documents,” said Gott of Baker Botts.
“Diane has done a great job of managing all aspects of it, including applying a strong sense of foresight and patience to really sit back and consider what all is needed to develop a decades-long project,” he said. “More importantly, Diane has been instrumental in managing the needs and expectations of the ownership investment and development group. She is able to work with individuals of all personality types and truly make everyone feel listened to and appreciated — a skill that not all lawyers have.”
Dallas lawyer Monty Watson of the Watson Law Group said Hornquist played a “pivotal role in the massive and very complicated Fields mixed-use development” in Frisco.
“Diane’s adept handling of the multifaceted legal aspects of this project, from real estate and tax issues to corporate structuring, has been instrumental in its progress and success,” Watson said. “Her ability to efficiently coordinate with various stakeholders and manage complex negotiations reflects her exceptional problem-solving skills and strategic vision. Diane’s greatest strengths lie in her overall understanding of the real estate development business and her ability to manage a wide array of legal and business challenges with strategic foresight.”
Watson and Gott agree that Hornquist’s skill in crafting legal solutions that align with business objectives makes her an invaluable asset to the Hunt organization.
“When working with Diane, I sometimes forget that she is just one person, as it feels like I am working with a team of people given her capacity and agility in moving from one part of a deal to another and from one interested party to another,” Gott said.
Q&A with Diane Hornquist
As nearly 300 Dallas leaders gathered at 2323 North Field Street just north of downtown on Oct. 10 for the official groundbreaking of Goldman Sachs’ new $500 million, 800,000 square-foot complex, Diane Hornquist sat on the front row just absorbing it all. Hornquist never took the stage but she was critical in the 11-acre North End mixed-use development becoming a reality.
Hornquist calls the North End groundbreaking one of the best days in her 25 years at Hunt Realty. “It was a heavy lift for a long time,” she said. “Being a part of Hunt Realty putting a legacy stamp there is a tremendous victory.” The Lawbook visited with the 2023 DFW Corporate Counsel Award winner about what she looks for in outside counsel and her biggest challenges on the job.
What have been your biggest challenges at Hunt Realty? We have always been a pretty lean team at HRI, and certainly we are going into 2024. The workload is relentless making it very important to hire the right resources at the right time and cost to leverage the efforts of the internal team.
What are the factors you consider when deciding about hiring outside counsel? I’m always looking for the perfect expertise to address a matter at the right cost structure. Billing rate is important for sure, but knowing how to work with our business-side folks and knowing the projects we are doing is very important.
What does outside counsel need to know about you? I value creative solutions, a can-do attitude and attention to detail. When I call, I always appreciate a prompt response, even if the answer is that you don’t have an answer yet. I especially appreciate candor when it comes to recommending or choosing among potential pathways, especially when there is thoughtful consideration given to specific Hunt priorities, which includes respect for individuals, companies, stakeholders, partners and the communities where we have impact.