News Article | 6/7/2007

Victory Park on tech’s cutting edge

A stroll through Victory Park with Ross Perot Jr. is like a high-tech version of Willy Wonka’s factory tour.

Instead of chocolate rivers and Everlasting Gobstoppers, the chairman of Hillwood Development, which built and is still building Victory, enthusiastically points out the “media hydrants,” massive high-definition screens and LCD kiosks scattered around the downtown Dallas development.

Behind the scenes, a “Wizard” room coordinates the constant stream of HD video pumped onto the screens, fiber-optic cables deliver high-speed Internet access to every building, and a quiet, nondescript room is crammed with flat-panel monitors that display footage from scores of security cameras.

Free Wi-Fi bathes the entire neighborhood.

“We knew when we were starting all this that we had a very unique opportunity with technology,” Mr. Perot said.

Indeed, Victory is built as much on technology as it is on glass, steel and concrete, and Mr. Perot hopes his glittering development will become a magnet for tech-savvy residential and commercial tenants.

“Victory Park is attracting a creative class,” he said. “It’s a creative class that lives here, that works here. They all have to have great technology.”

Mr. Perot said that his unique background made it possible to integrate technology so tightly into Victory’s initial design.

He is both the chairman of Hillwood and the chairman of Plano-based technology services firm Perot Systems Corp.

The two companies began collaborating on Victory before a single brick was laid, and Perot Systems now oversees all the technology aspects of the gleaming development.

That partnership is already paying off.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP said last month that it will move its North Texas headquarters to the One Victory Park building when it’s completed in 2009.

“Without question, the leading-edge technology offered by Victory Park impacted our decision to move there vs. one of the other great, new construction options available in Dallas right now,” Clint McDonnough, Dallas office managing partner of Ernst & Young, said in an e-mail.

“Our clients and our people expect the technology offerings of our office to mirror the sophistication of our internal technology offerings,” he added.

“So the technology infrastructure of One Victory Park, along with the fact that it is a certified green building – or environmentally friendly building – were among our most compelling reasons to make the move to Victory.”

Hillwood is getting national recognition for the technology work it’s done with Victory.

Earlier this week at Realcomm, a real estate technology conference held in Boston, Victory won the award for Extreme Mixed-Use Project, beating out developments in Las Vegas and Singapore.

Planning ahead

Victory’s technological prowess wouldn’t have been possible without some planning ahead.

“Very early on, we knew we were going to have a 75-acre project, and we wanted to make sure that our customers that we brought to it could handle any kind of service they needed,” said Dave Newgard, who oversees Perot Systems’ technology work at Victory Park.

“To do that, we designed a fiber-optic network that connects every building.”

Just about every piece of technology in Victory piggybacks on that network.

The high-capacity network enables the broadband Internet connections, the Wi-Fi, and the distribution of HD video to the moving screens over Victory Plaza.

One of the most intriguing benefits of technology married to architectural design is the so-called media hydrants.

These are essentially small, unobtrusive metal access panels embedded in the sidewalks and buildings around the development.

Behind the panels are video and audio plugs that a camera operator can plug into directly, so that a concert held in, say, Victory Park, can be broadcast live on the big screens several blocks away in Victory Plaza.

The project that would eventually become Victory was proposed in 1996, a nearly pre-historic era in the always evolving tech world.

Although Mr. Perot and his developers wanted the neighborhood to be a technological jewel, they realized that it would be nearly impossible to predict what specific applications and devices would be popular more than a decade later.

“What you do is you design the infrastructure so that you can accommodate future technologies,” Mr. Newgard said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge to design for that, but if you know what’s coming, it’s a little easier. The structure is there.”

Mr. Perot noted that Hillwood has developed that expertise on previous projects.

“We actually ran a huge conduit, an empty pipeline, underneath the Alliance runway when we built the airport,” he said. “You think of a 10,000-foot-long runway. I think in three sections, we put conduit in pipeline underneath the runway, just so we could run fiber back and forth across the runway easily, instead of having to come back 10, 15 years from now and dig everything up.”

“At Victory, you will not have to dig up the streets,” Mr. Perot added. “Within conventional wisdom, we have enough conduit there today that we can easily keep this place wired for the foreseeable technology future.”

For example, a group called Victory Media Network oversees the programming that runs on the huge LED screens at Victory Plaza.

Big screens

The screens mostly display special programs designed by professional artists and videographers, but Hillwood is beginning to discover new ways to show content on the screens.

Kristin Gray, director of Victory Media Network, said the screens were rigged a few weeks ago so that pedestrians in the plaza could send text messages to be displayed on them.

“This is something that we didn’t know, just a year or two ago, that we would want to do,” she said. “But we have the capability to have people text a message to a telephone number and, through a couple of different filters, it made it up to the screen.”

“You take this private conversation to the public, and it’s a chance for people to be a little exhibitionist, just having fun with technology.”

The screens will also become home to movies and short films directed by everyone from students to professional directors.

“We’re working with Booker T. Washington, with their students in the film and video club, to create content for the screens,” Ms. Gray said. “We just gave them money to go out and buy cameras to give to their kids to give them real-life experience in creating content and using technology. We will be showing some of their film shorts this summer.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Perot said the recent AFI Dallas International Film Festival exposed superstar directors to the possibilities of Victory’s eight movable screens.

“David Lynch, you could tell, was terribly intrigued as he was walking around here,” Mr. Perot said with a smile.

Managing all the technology isn’t without challenge.

Earlier this year, Hillwood and Center Operating Co., which operates the American Airlines Center, finally reached an agreement to allow the arena to mount its own massive video screen overlooking Victory Plaza.

Hillwood was concerned that the separate screen would distract from or compete with the Victory screens, but the two groups hashed out a schedule to determine when each set of screens would get audio priority.

Although the Victory and AAC outdoor video screens are run separately, the security room at Victory does monitor the security cameras for the arena.

Whether it’s untangling video screen disputes or pouring concrete, there’s still plenty of work to be done at Victory.

As a result, while Mr. Perot is obviously pleased with the results at Victory and excited about the buildings under construction, Hillwood isn’t likely to embark on similar ventures anytime soon.

“We have people from around the world coming to us and wanting us to do this for them,” Mr. Perot said. “But at this moment, we are so busy here trying to keep up that we’re nice and we talk and we look. But we’re not going to launch anything for a while.”


Here’s a look at some of the technology integrated into the Victory Park development:

•Free Wi-Fi Internet access

•Buried fiber-optic cables to provide connectivity in the buildings

•Eight movable HD video screens in Victory Plaza; the video screens move on rails based on roller-coaster rails.

•Nine “media hydrants” around the development enable live broadcasts on the Plaza screens.

•Phone-booth-size LCD kiosks around the development that contain hidden security cameras; the screens could eventually be upgraded to touch-screen displays.