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

In December 1998, with its potential nearby competitor hopelessly stalled, CityPlace broke ground.

Six months later, the owners of Burdines finally sold it for $10 million to a Miami company, Melvin says. The new owner thought the next big thing in real estate would be "telecom hotels" for Internet service providers and dot-com start-ups.

Of course, you can guess where the story moves from there. They finished their renovations last summer, just in time for the dot-com bust. Today, the ill-fated building is back on the sales block.

Signs of life: A one-block stretch between Main and Elm streets is being redeveloped into a quaint row of restaurants and shops called Stone Street Gardens. All it needs now is tenants.
Peter Calvin
Signs of life: A one-block stretch between Main and Elm streets is being redeveloped into a quaint row of restaurants and shops called Stone Street Gardens. All it needs now is tenants.
Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks hired Palladium to develop their land at the arena. The company's Victory development, displayed above in an artist's drawing, would arrive as an instant cityscape--except one landlord would run it all.
Mark Graham
Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks hired Palladium to develop their land at the arena. The company's Victory development, displayed above in an artist's drawing, would arrive as an instant cityscape--except one landlord would run it all.


In Dallas, the political planets are far less favorable for Palladium at the moment than they were in Florida. There, the mayor considered herself a full partner with Palladium and reportedly toured Italy with Ross to scope out designs.

Here, in the midst of a special election for mayor, the two front-runners both say Dallas has done enough for Victory, and it's up to Hicks and Perot to make the project go.

"They should keep their end of the bargain. I want to see some dirt fly," says insurance executive Tom Dunning, referring to the Perot promise of $550 million in private development. It was a tough statement coming from a man who had Tom Hicks on the podium when he announced for mayor.

Hicks has been promising he will build a new office tower, originally announced to be completed this year. That project has been scaled back, delayed and moved around the site. Industry sources say it is not likely someone would put up a high-rise office tower downtown in the midst of the current economic slump.

Laura Miller, the mayoral candidate and former Dallas Observer columnist, did not return a phone call for this story. It is likely, given her years of mocking and reviling the Victory developers, she opposes giving them one more dime.

Against that backdrop, and the opposition blowing in from the city center, Victory withdrew its "giant TIF" idea earlier this month. But it has not gone into full retreat. Wong says his group is designing another proposal to gather the $44.3 million in incentives, only this time in a way that affects only Victory rather than all of downtown. The details aren't likely to be out until early next year.

Overall, the pitch will remain the same: Things have changed since Perot's promise, and if you look at the total economic and tax benefit, it is a fair deal: 10,000 construction jobs; 5,000 permanent jobs; $25 million a year in new sales taxes; $6 million a year in hotel taxes; $11 million in real estate taxes. They promise the city's cut will be $10.5 million a year.

"That's where you get your pothole money," says Mike Baggett, the Winstead Sechrest & Minick lawyer who is working for the company. "It generates all sorts of taxes that go into general revenues that you have to pay your firemen and police."

And while others may have proposals, the pitch suggests, we have $200 million in equity lined up and are confident we can borrow the rest. "The developer takes all the risk," Wong says.

While Victory's proposal is stalled, at least for the moment at City Hall, Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson says he is willing to listen to the plan. "If this were a fancy retail center that said, 'We're looking at three cities, and Dallas is one,' I think we would be very interested in seeing what we could do. But there's a history at the city of some kind of commitment. I'm not sure what that is, or whether it can change."

The county kicked in $3 million for roadwork at Victory and would be asked to contribute more under the Palladium request.

Lisa LeMaster, a public relations consultant working for Palladium, says County Commissioner John Wiley Price is of the same mind as Jackson. Price declined to return calls from the Observer.

"I think we have some support in the minority community," says LeMaster. "We ended up with 35 percent minority-and-women participation on the arena. We're ready to go with more jobs."

Palladium has hired political consultant Carol Reed, bond lawyer Ray Hutchison (husband of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) and consultant Kathy Nealy to push its plan. Nealy--who has a private box at the American Airlines Center, on the premium level just a few down from Hicks'--helped deliver the crucial black vote for the arena four years ago.

There is also support for Victory from some major property owners in the West End, which would be linked more closely with the arena development than would Main Street and the core of downtown.

"It's a short-sighted, bunker mentality to be afraid of it," says Bill Nabors, president of ECOM Real Estate, which owns eight buildings in the historic district. He says Victory cannot compete with him on the price of office space, and if they lure away a restaurant or two, newcomers will take their place.

As for others, "We've got to soften them up to listen," LeMaster says.

Former Councilwoman Donna Blumer, a long-standing arena critic, says she knows what that means. "Whenever Hicks and Perot go to City Hall, they get heard. It can come to a standstill until they get their piece."

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