News Article | 7/5/2006

Sharing in Victory

Nearly a decade ago, minority and women entrepreneurs struck a groundbreaking deal that would spread the wealth when contracts were handed out for a $420 million sports arena in downtown Dallas.

Called a fair-share agreement, the pact enabled minority- and women-owned businesses to capture about a third of the construction and service contracts at the arena, which opened in 2001 as American Airlines Center.

The pact also applied to the planned adjacent development at Victory Park, but the projects were put on hold when the economy dipped.

Now the 75-acre development is bursting with cranes and traffic around the high-end W Dallas Victory Hotel, which opened last week, and the fair-share agreement is back in play.

Minority- and women-owned companies have been awarded 28.6 percent of the contracts through April for $161 million worth of construction at the W hotel and the two plaza buildings across the street.

“It feels good to be able to keep the commitment from the time you start to the time you open,” said Martin Burrell, an architect of the original agreement. He now works at American Airlines Center and consults on the Victory Park project.

Mr. Burrell has been part of the compliance effort on the fair-share pact.

“This is a very high priority for us,” said Jonas Woods, president of Hillwood Capital, part of Victory developer Hillwood Development. “We think it makes the project better.”

The fair-share agreement was struck during the tenure of Ron Kirk, the city’s first black mayor.

It was negotiated with billionaires Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars, and Ross Perot Jr., the then-majority owner of the Dallas Mavericks and current owner of Hillwood Development.

Both businessmen wanted a new home for their teams and public money to co-finance it.

Many credit the pact with providing the margin of victory on a tax increase vote in 1998.

Eventually, $125 million in public money went into the $420 million arena.

The pact set a goal of 26 percent participation by minority- and women-owned firms, and so far, it has exceeded expectations.

Mr. Burrell said he occasionally receives calls from other cities on how to structure such agreements.

The pact’s benefits continue for minority and women entrepreneurs because of its coverage of “ancillary development” by Hillwood. That includes the hotel and other projects.

“When you see the fair-share agreement and the words ancillary development, those are key words,” Mr. Burrell said.

The agreement was more sweeping than the pact recently signed for the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington. Unlike the arena plan, the stadium agreement doesn’t cover concessions or ancillary development.

‘City within the city’

When Mr. Burrell and other minority leaders were crafting the fair-share agreement, they never envisioned that the urban development around the sports palace would be so posh and so extensive, he said.

“We were not thinking of the whole scale of a new little city within the city,” Mr. Burrell said.

Minerva Rodriguez, former chairwoman of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was also part of the original negotiating team.

“In these type of agreements, you always hope that they will be honored, and, as time goes by and sometimes the developers change, you hope that the agreement will stand,” she said.

“I am pleased to note that they have continued to give our businesses the opportunity to be part of the construction and development of these projects.”

At Victory, the centerpiece of the new urban living space will be Victory Plaza in front of the arena.

Mr. Perot calls it Dallas’ future Times Square. The plaza will eventually feature several large, high-resolution screens with high-fidelity sound and theatrical lighting.

The two plaza buildings are scheduled to open in October.

Specialty crafts

There are numerous craftspeople behind all the chic transformation. The W Dallas project is a showcase for their handiwork.

Romeo Collazo, who is Hispanic, specializes in masonry and fancy stone installation. His company, ROC Construction, is installing curbs and paving made with granite from African quarries.

“It’s going to be very, very nice when it is all completed,” Mr. Collazo said.

He said smaller businesses often have a harder time competing. But his firm now has 14 years of experience and a list of construction accomplishments that includes work at American Airlines Center and Ameriquest Field in Arlington.

“We don’t get work just because we are minority contractors,” said Mr. Collazo, who graduated from Southern Methodist University with a civil engineering degree.

Tyrie Jamerson, who is black, designed and installed audio, visual and lighting equipment at the W. Among the techno-features his firm, Near Future, created were a central command for the audio that allows managers to adjust the sound without hopping from floor to floor.

The W chain takes such calibrated care of its ambience that it even mixes its own CDs. The Warmth of Cool features an ecletic mix of musicians ranging from singer Norah Jones to guitarist Federico Aubele of Argentina.

Mr. Jamerson takes it up a few more notches with his own calibration.

As part of his job, Mr. Jamerson, a University of Chicago MBA, did some reconnaissance at W properties in New Orleans, Chicago and San Diego. Managers gave him insight on how he needed to tweak the systems.

The contract, he said, “allowed us to show off our skills.”