Archive for August, 2011

Victory Park at 10: Notes

August 30, 2011

Some additional thoughts on Victory Park, a result of discussion outside this forum, to which the author is indebted to his colleagues in the design and planning community. Once again, the views, opinions and comments presented here are the author’s alone.

Many articles about Victory Park have addressed retail in the development. The discussion typically centers around why retail was built on Victory Park Lane and not on N. Houston Street; or, having been built on Victory Park Lane, why it was leased to high-end venues instead of a range of retail outlets, something that would appeal to all residents and visitors. We tend to look at this from the perspective that it’s obvious to us, that it should have been a foregone conclusion, one the developers, planners and designers all missed. And, surely they would have seen people walking along N. Houston to get to American Airlines Center and realized they had a great opportunity there. But this perspective overlooks the possibility that perhaps the developers wanted to build something else, something that would be separate from American Airlines Center, something that would redefine Victory Park. And this would be at a level above what the Center offered although if its activities figured in to the mix they would welcome this, as a basketball crown tournament would have done had the Mandarin Oriental hotel been built and shops along the lane serving customers this past spring.

I believe retail along Victory Park Lane was built for hotel guests, visitors, and some of the community’s residents, those living in the more expensive condominiums. Just as the Crescent was built with high-end clothiers, retail and restaurants tied to the hotel and office complex, so too was Victory Park. These stores were meant primarily for visitors, those who can afford to stay at the W and Mandarin Oriental hotels.

I expect the developers saw American Airlines Center as a separate entity, complete with its own retail/restaurant outlets, and that people would bypass anything along N. Houston or Victory Park Lane since their entertainment, food and beverage would be purchased at the Center. They even paved the way to get people there faster. To be fair, though, I don’t believe anyone attending a Center event would take time to stop along the way before or after the event to shop, eat or drink even if prices were moderate. Most would see their destination as their mission and wouldn’t deviate from it, especially those with families.

I have come to believe that Victory Park Lane was built along the model of the Crescent, Galleria, or major resorts where retail and other outlets are housed within the hotels or as a part of the development. Without the Mandarin Oriental, the retail model falls apart, which it did, given an additional shove by the economy to make matters worse. So, expensive clothiers? It makes sense under this model. To say that the developers didn’t plan accordingly is understandable, but when one defines the circumstances from the perspective the developers had, being one of high-end developments in larger cities that have built up urban fabric over a long period to support it, it’s not a given that they were off the mark except building up that population base, which is what they were trying to do themselves. This is what they cite in their statements and believed they could create at Victory Park. And it would have worked, had they built the Mandarin Oriental and the economy continued to grow (and somehow avoided recession and its aftermath slow growth, the first inevitable, particularly in Dallas real estate development; the second endemic to financial recessions).

Should the developers have built more modestly priced retail spaces? Yes. But this was likely voted down in favor of higher-end retail, possibly because they believed they didn’t have to worry about it based on the numbers they were generating and the hype they were creating around the project. When we look at what was built and what was planned for the ultimate build-out, it’s apparent the developers were deliberately building something more than what they had begun in 2000. They would try to maximize whatever benefits they could from the Center’s operations, but this would be limited to what they could build adjacent to it, and we see in what is there that they were trying to bring entertainment media into the equation in Victory Plaza’s offices. From there, they embarked on something completely different in the form of a new urban center.

Or, perhaps they had seen the potential for the east side of N. Houston Street. The difficulty here lies in what to do first. Hillwood was Victory Park’s developer and they made a conscious decision to build the arc of hospitality and living along the west side of N. Houston, focusing on retail at Victory Park Lane to support this clientele and, yes, turning their backs on N. Houston north of Museum Way, but possibly because they knew they would build on the lots between N. Lamar and Museum Way when the Nature & Science Museum was completed and when DART built its bus station along the line of the future train station at Museum Way. It wouldn’t be surprising if there is a consultant’s report in their files stating that retail from Museum Way to Olive couldn’t be supported by daily traffic and would always be hampered by a lack of corresponding outlets across the street because of the North End apartments. If the apartments are taken down it will be a different story, which may also have figured into the developers’ long term planning. It certainly helps to explain N. Houston Street’s alignment beginning right at the boundary of the Victory Park and North End sites.

Does Victory Park control land along the east side of N. Houston Street from the House of Blues to Museum Way? Or does Hillwood control development rights to this land. Hillwood had to forfeit its equity and management role in Victory Park but still remains an important participant in its future. It may fall to them to create retail as part of a transit-oriented development along the east side of N. Houston Street, leaving Victory Park’s retail model dependent upon what is built there. And is Hillwood bound by the Downtown Dallas 360 Plan recommendations? I would like to think so. I would also like to think that Hillwood would see the potential there after what became of retail at Victory Park Lane. It’s a much easier and obvious development model, one that offers many more retail opportunities and greater access. And once this is in place, adding higher end, although not exclusive, venues along Victory Park Lane will be easier to achieve. This doesn’t mean Victory Park’s developers should forego leasing these spaces to other types of retail uses. North Park’s model has allowed for a range of venues in its growth over the years, and this may be possible at Victory Park now. The important thing is to work with the community to determine what they need and subsidize retail in the interim if necessary to provide venues that accommodate this need.

Whatever we think of Victory Park’s present state or how it got to where it is today, it is time we begin offering the developers ideas that will help them turn this significant and vital development around. The continuing rail against Victory Park’s original developers and the decisions they made doesn’t serve to help those now running it nor does it help the people who live and work at Victory Park or its visitors, all of whom would like to see this development thrive. The City has made the transition and weighed in with their recommendations in order to help and to protect the public’s interest in the development. It’s time we do so as well.