In case you didn't know this--and you probably didn't, since its official opening isn't till a week from tomorrow--the W Hotel's open in Victory Park. Or maybe you do know: The joint's at 60-percent capacity, say the folks working the front desk, but a valet figures it's been 95 percent locals pulling up to the giant "W" sitting in the fountain on the Houston Street entrance; "haven't seen many taxis," says one of the guys sweating through their blue T-shirts beneath the paltry awning that ain't gonna block a hint of sunlight in about an hour or so. And it's hoppin' in the happenin' hotel: Dallas Morning News architecture critic David Dillon was in the lobby at 11 a.m., when I got there for my interview with Craft owner Tom Colicchio, and three hours later D was up on the 33rd floor doing a photo shoot in the as-yet-unfinished Ghostbar, with its no-shit-absolutely breathtaking view of Dallas that makes this city look more impressive than you'd ever guess from the ground floor. And Craft, on its first day of business, was mostly full for lunch, while tonight's completely booked up for dinner service--though Colicchio says they aren't serving to capacity tonight and for a few more nights, just so get the staff up to speed when the (c)rush begins next week. Bliss Spa's open for business, as well, its conveyor belts shuffling creams and gels and oils to and fro; word is the place is booked solid for three months, but I guess that depends on who you know. There were even three dudes, couldn't have been older than 20, hanging in the infinity pool with its swank view of, well, the county jail off Stemmons Freeway.
It's a touch early to proclaim the W--and the surrounding Victory Park development, which is beginning to look every penny of its $3 billion--the Next Greatest Thing Ever, but might as well be first in line to do so. There's a spark now in a part of town where once there was nothing but pollution and the promise of something, anything, better. To think, just a few years ago the Stemmons/Harry Hines corridor was nothing more than an area of concern on the long-forgotten Dallas Plan, hatched in 1992 by the likes of former mayor Steve Bartlett. It was just 11 years ago that the area, formerly the home of the Dallas Electric Company generating plant (which was built in 1890), was considered a Brownfield by the Environmental Protection Agency, which, in October 1995, gave Dallas a $200,000 pilot grant that targeted former industrial and commercial areas in need of a good scrubbing to create new development. (And just last month, the EPA gave Dallas another $200,000 for the very same purpose, this time with the intention of spending the dough in South Dallas, Fair Park, West Dallas, the Cedars and the South Side Public Improvement District.)
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It was also 11 years ago that a former columnist employed by the paper version of Unfair Park said a new arena would screw this city sideways. In fact last week she said the very same thing: Why ain't the W and Victory Park (say it: Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks) paying property tax? Well, short answer: They would have gone elsewhere without the tax increment finance district that paved the way for them to redevelop the area, that's why. And without the TIF, we'd all be going to Frisco to hang out at Ghostbar and Craft after a Dallas Mavericks game. And we'd all be where we were five years ago, lamenting the city that coulda been but ain't. Which isn't to say Mayor Laura didn't and doesn't have a point--there will always be something icky about giving rich people millions of bucks in breaks--but having the Victory Park development, which will in October come to include more astounding bars and restaurants and retail run by the same Las Vegas-based Group 9 folks responsible for Ghostbar, is better than driving past an EPA disaster area. I could be wrong here. No, wait. I am not. --Robert Wilonsky