Dallas' Victory Park Struggles to Deliver a Win

Blame it on a bad economy, a bad idea or both. Ross Perot Jr.'s glitzy downtown district is in big trouble

In October 2007, Dallas businessman Ross Perot Jr. was featured in a USA Today story about the unlikely rise of urban living in Texas. Photographed on the balcony of the towering Ghostbar, at the apex of the posh W Hotel, Perot looked confident as he discussed why developments such as his Victory Park—a $1 billion glimmering collection of high-rises, pricey restaurants and shops jutting from the American Airlines Center—were the Next Big Thing.

"You can move into a beautiful downtown home, walk to the arts, walk to a basketball game, walk to restaurants," Perot said. "There is something unique in the downtown fabric that you couldn't get in the suburbs." 

Only these days, at his Victory Park development, that fabric isn't getting much wear.

On a Saturday in January, a little after midnight, there are only a few people milling about Perot's district. Most of them are headed to the Ghostbar, one of the few places that hasn't shut down for the night. At the AT&T Plaza, the heart of Victory Park that fronts the southern edge of AAC, two mammoth super screens blare a series of artsy images to a crowd of, well, no one.  Billed as "one of the largest outdoor digital mediums in the world," the screens were supposed to be a landmark attraction in the glamorous development. Now they just seem a once-coveted Christmas gift tossed awkwardly aside.

In startling contrast, a few miles across town, in the cozy, older North Henderson Avenue neighborhood just off North Central Expressway, there remains a veritable parade of nightlife. Many of the men are dressed in snug jeans and untucked shirts; the women are mostly clad in denim and tight-fitting blouses. All of them, as if it were a law, are fashionably thin. On both sides of Henderson, running nearly a mile toward Ross Avenue, people crowd the sidewalks and spill into the streets, enhancing the authentic neighborhood feel of the area's blend of homespun hangouts and high-priced restaurants.

While Victory Park, the well-hyped, taxpayer-funded district, can't buy a crowd, North Henderson has gained immense popularity as if by accident. The same tale of two developments can be told about Victory Park and the West Village. On a Tuesday lunch hour in January, there is barely a soul wandering through Victory Park Lane, the boulevard that runs through the heart of the district. Meanwhile, at the always-bustling West Village in Uptown, parking is hard to find—as is an empty table at Taco Diner.

More than a decade earlier, Perot named his project "Victory," which seemed a reflection of his epic ambitions, as if the gods themselves had predetermined its success. He didn't want to open another Cheesecake Factory or an Old Navy in the shadow of a new, publicly funded arena. He wanted an upscale, one-of-a-kind retail and residential district, one that would surprise and titillate. His would be a destination district that the right kind of people would seek out.

Perot didn't apologize for his pretensions. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal Online in an October 2006 story about the kind of crowd he wanted to frequent the American Airlines Center, he said, "A U2 concert is fabulous. KISS, not so good."

But now, nearly three years after its first shops opened, Victory Park still hasn't found itself. Even before the economy went south, the district often turned into a ghost town when the arena was dark. Ritzy retailers have fled, while other businesses are struggling to hang on. Hillwood, the Perot real estate firm that runs the development, still has big ambitions for its development but recently postponed plans to build a second luxury hotel and now hopes to shed Victory's exclusive image by leasing to more affordable shops and restaurants. The KISS crowd, or any crowd, is now welcome.

"I don't think they spent this kind of money thinking it was going to be this quiet," says Mike Malin, an owner of the parent company that owns the Board Room sports bar in Victory Park. "I think Hillwood put together an impressive mix of nightlife and restaurants, and they expected the community to embrace it more."

It's an unlikely turn of events for a master-planned, 75-acre district that had everything going for it: A rich developer, a prime location, ultra-modern architecture and those towering screens reminiscent of Times Square. On top of those amenities, the AAC is home to the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Stars and nearly every musical act popular enough to sell out its 12,500-seat concert capacity.

But Victory Park is still trying to secure its place in the city. On special occasions, like New Year's Eve, when the plaza teems with an electric crowd, the district feels like a public square, a space for collective celebration. No other part of Dallas—not even a resurging downtown core—holds that promise. But at other times, the district seems like a flop—an ill-conceived, sterile mega-development that is as predictable as a shopping mall.

Perot's project doesn't seem like a sure thing anymore. It didn't help that Hillwood bungled the debut, opening with too few stores, and all of them pricey. Or that Victory Park is a destination location that is difficult to find and has innate design flaws that seem to steer foot traffic away from its retailers rather than toward them. And then there's the economy, which continues to sour and decimate high-end retail.

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32 comments
Joseph
Joseph

Never been there sounds expensive and snooty; even most rich and snooty people do not like that.

MattP
MattP

That's a great idea though the city would have to give DART ample warning.

But as an experiment why not try it through the summer and fall from 7-12 pm and host a few free concerts and movies there?

Tom Hendricks
Tom Hendricks

My plan for revitalization, would do more with less. It is simple and demands nothing but closing Main street to cars from Downtown, through Deep Ellum, to Fair Park. That pedestrian road would be our �river walk� where people could walk, shop, eat, visit, celebrate etc. Overnight the real estate on that road would become gold. The area on either side almost as precious. And both Downtown and Fair Park would be revitalized.My plan has big drawbacks though - too easy, cost too little, help too many, do too much good - all the things that the provincials in Dallas dislike.Where are the visionaries in this town that know even 101 about city planning?

john moeller
john moeller

We went to victory tavern last friday night, ironically because the wait was too long at a restaurant on henderson. We were charged 12dollars to park. I am not aware of another restaurant in town that charges even half that amount. We wont be back.

MaryBeth McMillon
MaryBeth McMillon

Thank you for pointing out the poor planning that resulted in Houston St., rather than Victory Lane, getting most of the foot traffic from fans heading to the AA Center from the parking lots on the south side of the arena. Not only does Houston St. lack any pedestrian friendly development, its narrow, streetlight and parking meter-filled sidewalk is ill-suited for a couple walking together, much less a crowd.

MaryBeth McMillon
MaryBeth McMillon

Thank you for pointing out the poor planning that resulted in Houston St., rather than Victory Lane, getting most of the foot traffic from fans heading to the AA Center from the parking lots on the south side of the arena. Not only does Houston St. lack any pedestrian friendly development, its narrow, streetlight and parking meter-filled sidewalk is ill-suited for a couple walking together, much less a crowd.

Quia
Quia

I bet if they put an H&M in that old LFT space they'd wake that area up a bit, lol

db
db

Two things - unless I missed it the article should have contained at least one Reference to Medina - a really good, reasonably priced, and cozy place.

Also, Goldy has it right, we've somehow gotten parking way out of wack here in Dallas. Think about all of the places that you like to go and the parking generally sucks. We've got too many big roads and too much parking all over our city, not just in the core.

Jennifer
Jennifer

"Vicotry" as a namesake is no doubt questionable as unless immanent in nature. In which case it is not,(immanent),then more so it becomes Ego-centric... Which is off-putting by everyone. Point one.The reason why North Henderson, (which is in reality is not north but East Dallas hence anything East of 75 ) is popular is that it resonates soulfulness, it is not manufactured, and it has history. It gives opportunity to the creatives according to terms more achievable and room for their own design. There are many things that could have been done with this area of land at Victory Park that sat unused for many, many years. Perhaps due diligence should have included those who inhabited it YEARS ago, who are familiar, who knew the "ICONIC" energy that once existed there, rather than those who clearly did not. The tragic END to West End should have been a clear indicator of outright "commercialism" which has been the detriment to much of the Dallas area.Residential is always key in mixed use, who will inhabit this area and what do they live for. (Richard Florida/ Cultural Creatives) . Where are those today that were once there yesterday? Who asked them? Was there anyone who bothered to do a survey before they spent the tax payers money on what would make sense or did you already know all the answers? To think of putting something "exceptionally exclusive," in an area known for the infamous warehouse cutlure for it's arts and counter culture of yesterday, is clearly ill advised. The energy for it to be successful is simply not there, unless you ASK those who were.

Goldy
Goldy

Dear Developers:

If I hear you use the terms "sense of place" or "Greenwich Village vibe" again, I'm going vomit and then swallow my own bile. Dallas has an area with a whole lotta sense o'place and a its own vibe. It's called Downtown. Yet, you keep building "fake" downtowns on the the periphery and wonder why A) the real downtown is devoid of sucessful retail/restaurants/non-flophouse residential and B) your Truman Show developments have no soul, even sucessful ones like West Village look like Sesame Street. And what will all that chaep stucco construction look like in 50 years-can you say Haltom City?

"But we need convienient parking, this is a car town", I hear you whine. Well guess what? Greenwich Village doesn't have good parking, The French Quarter doesn't have good parking, The Gaslamp in San Diego doesn't have good parking, the whole fucking continent of Europe doesn't have good parking.

We could use the the walk.

Sorry for the rant, now you can proceed to knock down the Robert Johnson building for a new Jason's Deli or somesuch.

holman
holman

The usual rule of thumb among developers concerning projects with high risks but potential high yields is that "the second guy in will make money"--after the first guy goes broke. Concerning Governors Island (NY), Trump says, "The third guy in will make money."

Same is true for Victory Park. The whole cost basis has to be lowered, so retail rents are cheap enough for the mom-n-pops, annd the living spaces are affordable to a wide swath of empty nesters, the young and the half-assed professionals (ha!).

It just needs to go through at least two bankruptcies - which is likely in this environment.

Billy Shafer
Billy Shafer

I do not see what the big surprise is.Anyone with half a brain could have told you it would flop. High end stores where the rich are not going to go makes no sense. Plus the place is hard to get to and in a bad part of town.Next time Hillwood wants to throw money away let me know. I could sure use it.

Francesco Sinibaldi
Francesco Sinibaldi

Something new in my heart.

I'm going tobelieve thateverything shinesin the lightof a footprint,with a lovingdesire, in thesound of thedarkness.....

Francesco Sinibaldi

cliffster
cliffster

One point not made in the story is the really bad service one found in Victory Park when it first opened (maybe now too but I haven't gone back since my first two forays a year ago or so). I travel worldwide and walked into N9ne in Las Vegas once and met friendly people and had a great meal. Tried the same thing at N9NE in Victory Park and confronted aloof and arrogant hostesses who failed to seat us within 90 minutes. Ridiculous. Who cares if the design funnels everybody into the shops and restaurants if what people discover there is pretentious and unsophisticated good and services. Which is what Victory Park is all about. Oak Cliff (Bishop Arts/Fort Worth Avenue) is where it is at. It, Henderson and The Cedars are Dallas's only real hopes for sustainable development. Jacks' Backyard on Fort Worth Avenue sits next to a trailer park and is making more money than all of the restaurants in Victory Park combined.

cliffster
cliffster

One point not made in the story is the really bad service one found in Victory Park when it first opened (maybe now too but I haven't gone back since my first two forays a year ago or so). I travel worldwide and walked into N9ne in Las Vegas once and met friendly people and had a great meal. Tried the same thing at N9NE in Victory Park and confronted aloof and arrogant hostesses who failed to seat us within 90 minutes. Ridiculous. Who cares if the design funnels everybody into the shops and restaurants if what people discover there is pretentious and unsophisticated good and services. Which is what Victory Park is all about. Oak Cliff (Bishop Arts/Fort Worth Avenue) is where it is at. It, Henderson and The Cedars are Dallas's only real hopes for sustainable development. Jacks' Backyard on Fort Worth Avenue sits next to a trailer park and is making more money than all of the restaurants in Victory Park combined.

RE
RE

vic park has crap parking... i am crippled and its even worse for the likes of US

knottygirl
knottygirl

Every time I complain about the disappearing low-income housing near downtown, I get snotty comments about being an East Dallas, anti-progress hippie who would rather live near slums than see an increase in the tax base. Well, this is an extreme example of what happens when housing is way too expensive, restaurants and shops are too pricey, and public transportation doesn't adequately serve an area.

Low-income workers aren't any different from the rest of us. Given a choice to live and shop close to work or far away, they'd rather spare themselves the commute. There are sales clerks and busboys and wait staff and cleaning crews working in those pricey shops and restaurants. Can any of them afford to live, shop, or eat in Victory Park? Until there is a small percentage of subsidized housing in or near Victory Park for the people who work the scut jobs to keep everything shiny and pretty in Victory Park, it will be nothing but a Potemkin village--all show and no substance.

portorro
portorro

I work close to VP and walk over there during lunch.

1. This place feels empty at noon. You can see cars all over 35E (jammed paked) and even Pearl Ave, but none of this traffic gets to this area.(?!!) Why not opening a new exit towards VP from 35E? I am sure that instead of being stuck on 35E many people will rather go and have something to eat or shop at VP.2. Open that station and speed up the green line. I for one, will be using it and may think of spending money over there at regular 8-6PM hours.3. Regardless of traffic, everytime i walk by those shops I feel like...I will have to pay $5000 and will have to give up my first born child for a pair of jeans. This place needs real stores for real people pronto. Dont this people eat like hamburgers? What about an EatZis? Do they go to the grocery store? What about a wholefoods?4.Lastly, its too pretty pretty. And pretty pretty is ugly ugly. It needs to ugly itself a little to look ugly pretty. ;)

H.
H.

This whole area catered to a fake market. Or rather a market where only 5% of the people actually have real money. The thirty-thousandaire's are feeling the hurt of this economy. So buying their costume's and leasing their overpriced cars had to end. Sorry, snotty Dallas developers... maybe you should pack up and move to Austin or Houston; and please take this whole crowd of "followers" with you. Who knew that the name Ghost Bar was really a reference to what this side of town was to become.. a Ghost Town.

Suburban Idiot
Suburban Idiot

"They could maybe see more traffic if people from downtown could take the DART."

That is coming. Victory Station opens for regular business in September, according to DART.

Granted, like someone else mentioned, it would be better if the stop was in the middle of the development, but even a regular stop where the station actually is will be an improvement.

Ralphy
Ralphy

I think a BYOB strip club would help Victory Park.

Anonymous
Anonymous

With repspect to the public financing, don't lose site of the extraordinary costs associated with bringing in City infrastructure (streets, utilities, etc). Your references to success stories on Henderson, or adjacent developments didn't have to shoulder these expenses.

Madeleine Shero
Madeleine Shero

I actually made a very similar and much shorter argument about downtown (and touched on Victory Park) in my blog post: http://cultivationnation.blogs....

I completely agree with what you are saying. Very few people can or want to go out and drop $300 for a Diane von Furstenburg dress or $180 for G Star jeans on a regular basis. I hope that they bring in more mid-level priced stores, but keep them independent. Don't bring in The Gap or Victoria Secret. Mockingbird Station is an example of going too far in that direction.

And open up that Victory Park station for more than just games! Very frustrating to have to drive to get over there. Went to a concert and the station wasn't open then either. They could maybe see more traffic if people from downtown could take the DART.

Branden Helms
Branden Helms

Matt, it is great to see an article published that vindicates what I have been saying about Victory for years, first as an armchair urban planner, and now as a student.

Though you don't directly state it, one point that seems to be proven is that stadiums and arenas don't deliver on the economic development promises made during their elections. While their has been development (only by the same guy who built the arena), it hasn't been what's promised. Looking at recent closures, the arena seems to have done little for the retailers, since they are open all day 6-7 days a week. Game day traffic that is supposed to drive this development is only in the area shortly before and after the event, 100-150 days out of the year. No profitable retailer would set their business model around such an irregular and unpredictable customer base.

Also you mentioned the two design flaws to the Victory development, Victory Park Lane isn't designed to handle pedestrian traffic flow on event days and the lack of visibility of the street itself.

I'll add a third. Back in the day, when DART wanted to build the first part of the upcoming Green Line to service the AAC, they wanted to build it on Houston Street and build the station directly adjacent to the development and arena. The developers, presumably Perot, fought it and wanted it on the edge, between the development and I-35E. The city, in its infinite wisdom decided to side with developers as it always does and denied DART the ability to serve the activity center directly and forced it where it is today.

Thousands of people use that station for events and will never see any retailers, even at full build out. They will see the parking garages for the buildings, however, though that is little consolation for the retailers and very confusing for potential visitors who have to figure out where the spine is for Victory.

This goes back to a fundamental flaw of Dallas trying to become more urban in its core, including Downtown, Uptown, Deep Ellum, Victory, etc. Historically, cities are formed on the ability to generate wealth, ie jobs and economic activity. After that, they will take the shape of the transportation city. When Dallas was served by sreetcars, it was a dense walkable city. Now that it's laced with freeways every few miles, it is a low-density, auto-oriented region.

While DART's light rail system is making inroads in this area, the region is still dominated by the auto, because it was built to. American's don't love their cars as the common stereotype goes. It is a transportation tool and for the vast majority of this area, it is the only viable and efficient tool available.

This pertains to Victory in a big way. Since the urban core was built prior to the auto, it is not as convenient for the car. Since the suburbs were built around the car, they are more convenient. If people want to buy something upscale, it is more convenient to go to North Park than Victory. In essence, no place near the urban core will be able to outsuburb the suburbs. They can easily out urban them if they try, but they don't as much as they should. (I may need to tap the brakes a little on out-urbaning the suburbs. Some of them are figuring out how to do urban, like downtown Plano and Galatyn Park in Richardson, which actively use the Red Line Stations adjacent to drive the development)

While there are lots of urban amenities in Victory, a big flaw is its reliance on the car. By putting the train station so far out of the development, it exacerbated that problem. That along with what you mentioned about Houston Street, basically being the loading dock for Victory, has made Victory undesireable to the urban and suburban population.

chris von danger
chris von danger

The main issue with Victory Park is it will not embrace big or value name business to bring in the local/visitor foot traffic, most of that is due to the eliteist attitude of Ross Jr and Hillwood, who think anyone who dines at a Fridays or Chili's is too low rent for their taste. Chef Tim Love was about to open a branch of Love Shack Burgers there and couldnt get these guys to give him a straight answer on the property. If ESPNZone, Hard Rock or any business similar to their model decided to open a location in the area, the business would be through the roof on game/concert nights, not to mention pull in the locals on off nights.

Jake
Jake

This is a great article. As an example, I live in Oak Cliff so when restaurants started opening in the Bishop Arts area and beyond I was sure to support them, tell my friends about them, or take my friends to support them. My friends who live in downtown did the same for their burgeoning scene as have the folks near Henderson and in Uptown. Who are the advocates for the Victory area? As of now it�s just the North West End; A more expensive, shiny, contrived destination place for out-of-towners.

Sherri Hughes
Sherri Hughes

I live in the complex Jefferson @ the Northend,which I guess technically is not a part of "Victory Park". However, I think the success of the area depends a lot on the residents of this complex. The complex probably has the most diverse residents in the area, both financially and culturally. In the future this area has to meet the needs of such a diverse group, which would also mirror the diverse group that patronizes the AAC. What about a movie theatre, upscale bowling(Tin Pin Alley)chic low priced retail(forever 21/ H&M) and low end quality restaurants(Five Guys-hamburgers/Wing stop)-these options could work well with high end boutiques and restaurants.

Bob
Bob

Two problems: lousy, unaffordable, close parking and too expensive shops and restaurants.

james conway
james conway

Wow where to one starts, Its one of the reasons for leaving that city. You have the rich and then you have the rich who thinks there's only the rich. Then the rich turn around and dont even do business with each other because they know exactly what each other is offering and they dont want it cause they dont like it. Can any one say "BOREDOM"Well if you can, say it loud enough and in repetition because most people in Dallas dont have a clue what fun is and creativity is all about. "Change" would be a good new word for that group. Cahnge and fast. The ones making those decisions are the same ones who think BMWs rule. Well they are nice but flavor is good too. Motorcyles are not bad either. "You feel me Dallas?"Oh well i will not be the one giving away ideas for free.Keep searching Dallas and hopefully you will hit the Barn.

Victory wannabe
Victory wannabe

Victory will not survive without condo landowners who care about their neighborhood and investment. Renters and flippers do not make a stable neighborhood or foundation for future growth. Therfore a simple solution is for Victory to quit trying to over think and over due sucessful models. You need to (subsidize if you have to) have a Victory grocery store, and assorted real service stores (pharmacy, doctors, cleaners etc) within Victory so residents can walk and shop. Have all of these subsidized comapnies provide delivery services (even doctors) for residents etc. Look at any NY neighborhood and even North Dallas neighborhodd to see what has worked for generations. Victory developers needed to check in their egos a long ago along with their crazy LA/NY condo price structures. Even before the Cali crash you could get a sizeable 2 bedroom water view condo along the coast of West Los Angesles for 700K yet for the same price I could only find a 1 bedroom overlooking the County Jail...Come On!

wick olson
wick olson

so do they plan to renovate Victory Park to make it more attractive?

Steven R
Steven R

I;m sure it'll achieve critical mass someday. After all, look at West End. Well... wait a minute... Never mind.

 
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