Hillwood chief legal officer David Newsom’s only problem with Michael Craver is that there’s just one of him.
“He just needs to be the legal filter for every business deal,” Newsom says.
Filtering every business deal involving the 75-acre Victory Park in downtown Dallas could keep an entire firm busy. But Hillwood entrusts the legal management to Craver, who, Newsom says, has begrudgingly hired two attorneys to help him since he took over in 2000.
Little did Craver know that the American Airlines Center (AAC) project he began in 1999, when he was with Kenneth D. Martin & Associates, would launch him into his present role as keeper of all things legal for Victory. He did such a bang-up job on the arena, the first Victory building, that Hillwood couldn’t live without him, Newsom says.
“He accumulated such knowledge of the site primarily, and of helping the project get permitted, developing relationships, negotiating. He became so invaluable that we wanted him full time,” Newsom says.
The knowledge – real estate, city management, contracts – was easily transferable to Hillwood’s other plans for Victory. And when Palladium, Hillwood’s development partner, bowed out of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, market downturn, Craver made the transition much less painful. Hillwood took over the development and gave Craver the legal responsibility.
Crave, who came into the AAC project with a real estate and municipal law background, was a quick study on all the other areas of law involved: intellectual property, litigateion, corporate condominium law, water, mineral rights, environmental, land use and lender issues, to name a few.
“We took a huge abandoned industrial district and turned it into this development,” Craver says of the Victory project.
He also has learned about team-building. Craver has gathered lawyers from Hughes & Luce, Hillwood’s regular outside firm, and several other Dallas firms to serve as his outside team. One of the important factors in choosing outside help, he says, is the lawyers’ abilities to leave firm allegiance at the door, though he knows firms like to keep work in the family.
After the arena, Hillwood and Craver started on the W Dallas Victory Hotel & Residences, an unusual hotel and condo complex that has brought many other interested parties to the Victory negotiations.
One of Craver’s key qualities, Newsom says, is the credibility he has earned with everyone Hillwood deals with for Victory. He has developed viral relationships with the staff-level city engineers and planners, “where the real work is done,” Newsom says. They trust him, which frequently saves the company valuable time.
Notes Newsom, “There’s no way we can be that nimble without Mike Craver. With this city, he’s our company.”