News Article | 1/27/2007

Times Square comparisons make Victory Park a megawatt surprise

Kate Harding looked a little, well … stunned.

As she strolled down North Houston Street around lunchtime Thursday, the Australian stopped in her tracks and gazed up at the giant screen broadcasting local news from the side of a building in downtown Dallas.

She was impressed.

“The last time I was here was about 18 months ago, and it’s changed so much,” said Ms. Harding, 23. “I got lost on the way here.”

Welcome to Victory Park, a booming mixed-use development that’s beginning to earn comparisons to Times Square. No, really.

OK, Victory isn’t on the same scale as New York City’s famous attraction, but tourists and locals alike are beginning to take notice.

“It has the potential to be” like Times Square, said Ms. Harding, who spent a week in Dallas to attend the NHL All-Star Game at American Airlines Center. “People would come not just to watch the games, they’d come to stay in the hotels and shop and all that.”

Victory’s point man, Jonas Woods, said that by the time the $3 billion development is built out, the Times Square comparison should gain even more traction.

“There’s certainly an element of [the development] that comes from our experience in Times Square,” said Mr. Woods, president of Hillwood Capital. “There are components of it that are modeled after that.”

He specifically pointed to the fact that a local television station, WFAA-TV (Channel 8), has a studio in Victory Park. The station is owned by Belo Corp., the parent company of The Dallas Morning News.

The live broadcasts tend to attract curious onlookers, who often surround the studio and peer through the glass walls.

Think fishbowl.

But the big magnets, the ones that reel in passers-by, are the giant high-definition screens. By March, Mr. Woods said, all 11 screens will be up and operating, providing a constant stream of news and entertainment.

When I strolled through Victory Park several times this week, I could feel a sense of urgency that has long been missing from downtown. Construction cranes dot the skyline, and workers scamper from one project to another.

And you can’t help noticing all the signs boasting new businesses. At the intersection of Houston and North Lamar streets, an “Opening Spring 2007 – House of Blues” banner hangs on one corner, and a “Luna de Noche – Opening Soon” sign stands across the street.

What’s more impressive is that Victory Park is still a long way from becoming what its development team envisions.

“In terms of what’s open and under construction now, we are about one-third” of what is planned, said Mr. Woods. “So we’re about $1 billion into a $3 billion-plus development.”

It’s almost hard to remember that just a decade ago, this was a mostly neglected old brown field that reflected the generally gloomy state of downtown Dallas.

Now, the entire 72-acre Victory Park tract has a dynamic pulse.

“It’s great,” said Ms. Harding, the Australian tourist. “It has the potential to make Dallas a bigger attraction than it already is.”

I asked Mr. Woods if he still hears from critics who complained about the city chipping in $125 million to help build American Airlines Center, the hub of Victory Park and home of its professional hockey and basketball teams.

As you may recall, some anti-arena critics questioned whether Victory Park was just a pipe dream.

“Anyone who’s still a naysayer or detractor just doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Mr. Woods said. “This is not only what we said we were going to do, but that again multiple times over.

“I’m sure there are still those who say the city should not have put money into it, or that it’s still not what they expected, but anyone who shares that opinion is just not paying attention.”

If a stroll through Victory Park doesn’t erase all doubts, maybe next New Year’s Eve will leave a more lasting impression.

That’s when Mr. Woods hopes that Victory Park can come up with something similar to the annual dropping of the ball in Times Square. “Hopefully,” he said, “something jaw-dropping at the stroke of midnight.”

And it’ll all unfold on the big screens, just like in New York City.