Victory after 10 years: Iconic but not helping downtown

Not long ago, the DMN published a series of stories titled "Partial Victory", which was a rather ingenious way of highlighting the big, new "Times Square for Dallas" surrounding the American Airlines Center downtown. The good news, according to the story: Ross Perot Jr. says that Victory is farther along, development-wise, than he thought it would be at this time. The bad news: Apparently, if you don’t live there (and not many people do), you don’t know what’s happening at Victory and you aren’t participating in terms of spending money.

As it stands now, about 10 years into what Hillwood describes as a 25-year process, there are about 13 restaurants, a dozen retailers, more than 750 residential units and quite a bit of office space, including WFAA-TV’s Times Square-like station on a corner near the AAC. But the place has become more upscale, to the exclusion of everything else, than the developers apparently planned, so while it’s easy to find a $1,500 hotel room and a $400 dress, you can’t find an inexpensive lunch, a drugstore or a grocery store, according to the News.

Interestingly enough, that’s the same complaint that the people living and working downtown — and I mean the original downtown — have, too. And it’s interesting to remember that one of the sales pitches we were given when the developers floated the $230 million arena bond in 1998 was that Victory was an important step in downtown’s revitalization. As we can see now, that hasn’t been the case — the distance between Main Street and Victory is too far for the average person to make the walk, and whatever good is happening at Victory isn’t trickling over to downtown.
So what we have is a truly iconic development on the extreme north side of downtown (and it’s a stretch to even say Victory is in downtown) that taxpayers invested $125 million in building (the arena subsidy). That’s great news for the developers, but it doesn’t do much for our city’s stated goal of developing the traditional part of downtown, and it’s a major reason that we continue to dump millions and millions of dollars to subsidize downtown projects. And that’s a big part of the reason that we’re now being told (as opposed to asked) that we need to put $550 million into building the convention center hotel.

Had Victory been built either east or west of the convention center, the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown would have been much better served, and it’s logical that a private developer would have seen enough action around the convention center to pay for part or all of the hotel we could soon be entirely on the hook for. The Farmers Market area had enough land for the arena, some residential and some retail; the area where the convention center hotel is planned obviously has something going for it, or Mayor Tom Leppert wouldn’t be touting the hotel as the first piece of a new development there. But because there wasn’t enough land for Hicks/Perot to make a bunch of money, they pushed city leaders to invest in their 25-year plan at Victory, with plenty of visceral value to taxpayers but not the development bang we were promised at the time.

As I recall, there was a fair amount of discussion about the Victory development prior to that vote, but most of the discussion centered around whether it was a good idea for the city to dump $125 million of taxpayer money into the project rather than whether Victory was the place to dump the $125 million.. And with the developers threatening to take the arena to Arlington, Irving or other places, we chose not to play chicken with Hicks/Perot and gave them what they wanted. It wasn’t a bad deal — it just could have been better for us instead of them.

Now that we’re looking at dumping $550 million as part of another revitalization effort for downtown, one that isn’t exactly located right on Main Street either, these are things we need to discuss and think about, rather than just rushing forward, dumping a bunch of money into the site and hoping things work out — which as near as I can tell is the present plan. It’s possible the city has selected the right spot for the convention center hotel, but based on how quickly Leppert pushed the deal through the council, there’s no way to know. This time, we need to take a little time to evaluate the deal, learn more about the thought process (or lack thereof) that went into its selection and make sure that’s the spot that will most benefit the rest of downtown, too.

Bottom line: It’s still an idiotic and money-wasting idea to build the hotel entirely with city money. But assuming that Leppert and his pals make the deal happen, it would be nice to make sure that — this time — we spend the subsidy money in the right place. I don’t think we can afford to make too many more mistakes.


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