The Thing That Ate Downtown

Downtown’s real estate barons are terrified that Perot-Hicks’ slick Victory project could wreak havoc on their own tax-funded plans to fix the city’s core

"I don't know why we'd want to incentivize something on the edge, outside the loop, when we're trying to fix downtown," says Susan Mead, a Jenkens & Gilchrist real estate lawyer who has worked for more than 20 years on behalf of the city's biggest real estate players and now is working for a city-center group.

"I'm confident that over time Victory will be a great development and all areas will succeed," says Kirby White, with Crescent Real Estate Equities, one of downtown's biggest property owners with landmark skyscrapers such as Fountain Place, the Bank One building and Trammell Crow Center. "But there could be a timing issue--how quickly that it accelerates and how quickly our [the core's] revitalization takes place."

Says Lill, who told Palladium after its sales pitch that she would not support its plan, "In the short term, they would be competitive if both were to be created simultaneously. In my view, right now downtown is still struggling. Inside the loop is where I want to concentrate my efforts." In her talks around the city, she found little support from downtown owners for the Hicks-Perot-Palladium idea, "and these were folks who are reasonably large, Trammell Crow Company, others like that."

Palladium's Ken Wong says his company's approach works because "it has a big impact...We create the whole district at once. We make sure there's a there there."
Palladium's Ken Wong says his company's approach works because "it has a big impact...We create the whole district at once. We make sure there's a there there."
The great tan hope: City-center advocates are counting on the Mercantile complex, a long-dead set of bank buildings, to spur the district back to life. The Dallas City Council approved $28 million in tax incentives last spring, but construction work has not begun.
Peter Calvin
The great tan hope: City-center advocates are counting on the Mercantile complex, a long-dead set of bank buildings, to spur the district back to life. The Dallas City Council approved $28 million in tax incentives last spring, but construction work has not begun.

In short, if downtown doesn't beat Victory out of the gate with its own stores, restaurants and convenient parking and somehow turn the Main Street hub into something more than a place to buy a lunchtime sandwich or a dollar-store wig, the core's creeping revival might grind to a halt. No more talk of creating a "lively 24-7 environment" in the city center. No more upbeat proclamations about fixing the car-centric downtown, where only Neiman Marcus' flagship survives among the empty, burglar-barred storefronts and the façades of long-gone banks.

In a business in which timing is everything and public officials play a huge role because they control the all-important tax incentives, City Hall is once again the center of a real estate brawl.


To listen to Palladium's Wong describe how a Palladium project works is to get an idea how sophisticated developers have become in designing things that make people want to come in and spend--on a meal, an apartment, a silk dress.

"The Palladium approach, rather than a piecemeal approach, has a big impact. We don't put a building out there and hope it works, that people will want to have a place to live next to an office building, then place a shop next to that," says Wong, a calm, confident sort who splits his time between the Dallas project and remaking San Jose. "We create the whole district at once. We make sure there's a there there.

"In the middle of it is a public space, a gathering place that draws an audience beyond the local trade. They come because there's a destination, an emotional attachment, a reason to come into the city.

"We also have the ability to do an integrated, mixed-use project all at once, so the investor community is confident in a Palladium approach."

Tenants are lined up in advance and promised in their leases that they will have neighbors up and running just like them. At present, while still in the planning stage, the company has lined up a boutique W Hotel, a House of Blues nightclub and retailers such as J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The result--much like at Mockingbird Station and the anchor Angelika Film Center--is a sort of spontaneous combustion on opening day of foot traffic and cars. It is an instant cityscape, except one private manager runs it all.

Palladium, in a sense, creates an open-air, street-side Galleria, plus apartments. In Dallas, which has no waterfront, no popular squares, some indistinct parks and malls that always seem busy, it is a good bet Palladium's Victory will become a popular place to go.

In West Palm Beach last year, Palladium opened the first phase of a 55-acre mixed-use development called CityPlace in the heart of a decaying downtown. The project, which looks like a quaint quarter in a bustling Mediterranean town, is as close a project as the company has to what is planned here.

"Everything in CityPlace is private except for the streets," says John Zakian, West Palm Beach's economic development director. "When it comes to designing a customer-friendly environment, the private sector does it best. It's an innovative use of mall management plopped down in the heart of downtown."

Palladium is in charge of everything, from the mix of stores and restaurants to the free concerts in the plaza to the location of the movie house. A Florida chain called Movico put in a 20-screen theater with a four-story atrium in the style of the Paris Opera House, complete with reserved seating and premium food.

Zakian is particularly impressed with Palladium's approach to parking. In CityPlace, people can pull their cars up to valet stands and pay a premium or park for free in a lot. On the streets, there are short-term meters, but revenue collection is only a small reason why they are there. "On the street parking they want turnover, a kind of energy and activity," Zakian says. "People getting in and out. It creates the impression that this is a very busy street."

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