Friday, March 20, 2009

It’s become incredibly popular to dogpile on the failed or failing or at least struggling Victory Park. I was and am completely guilty of that. In fact, I may have called Victory Park “the Dubai of the West” on FrontBurner last month. And I didn’t mean it in a good way. Let me get it all out before I actually try to be positive. The development in the way that it was originally conceived was catering to a very risky clientele. They were gunning for New Money. Old Highland Park Money already had a place to spend their money. They like their Snider Plazas and their Highland Park Village and their Mom and Pop Scots-boosting local merchants. They don’t need glass and steel and neon and awkward, uncomfortable ultra-sleek modern seating to be lured into buying something. Look at some place like Bob’s. The actual storefront of Bob’s is hardly overwhelming or architecturally breathtaking. It doesn’t seem to be hurting business at all. Old Money is stable.

New Money is often based on lines of credit and rounds of fundings and borrowing against future earnings and all kinds of shaky, shadowy funny money. New Money likes glass and steel and Michael Graves furniture and polished concrete floors and feeling extremely urban and cosmopolitan. Never ask to open a bottle of wine at New Money’s loft because they will produce a polished steel corkscrew from Sharper Image that will be a very complicated version of an extremely simple tool and it will make no sense and you will feel stupid for not knowing how to operate it and you will give up on opening your bottle of wine. Victory Park figured that Old Money already knew where they wanted to spend their money but they thought that the young New Money needed a place to spend insane amounts of money on anything and everything, as long as it was a steak dinner or a suit or a pair of distressed jeans. And didn’t New Money want to live where the action was? Well, unfortunately downtown Dallas is deader than a doornail after the sun goes down but at least there’s the AAC with events happening at least half the year, right?

Cue the bottom falling out, the funding drying up, the lines of credit going bye bye and the New Money evaporating pretty quickly. Old Money suffered but I can’t imagine that they felt it as suddenly and as sharply as New Money, who tended to lease and finance things beyond their means much more often. So all businesses suffer. Now if Victory Park had not decided to cater exclusively (and they have said as much with the “KISS concert” quote) to the top 3% of earners in Dallas, they might have been able to tighten the purse strings and cut a few corners and struggle through. But when you let the riff-raff know that they were never welcome in the first place, you never had a shot at staying afloat once your small customer base took a hit. God, did you learn nothing from The Five Man Electrical Band’s anthem “Signs” or the movie “Pretty Woman” guys?

Alright, now for the positive. As tempting as it is for me to refer to the recently announced plans to open several “moderately priced” eateries in Victory Park as an attempt to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, I can’t for several reasons. The first one is that I went through a phase where I used that phrase to refer to almost everything and every situation to the point where a friend called me out on it and placed a moratorium on my use of the phrase. But also, I think there COULD be a bright-ish future to Victory Park, provided that some very major changes occur.

As of now, the baby steps towards avoiding complete irrelevance, oblivion and reverting back to an auto wrecking yard entails adding a pizza place, a Thai place and a Hard Rock Café. Umm, I’m not sure about those but I guess it’s a step in the right direction. However, the development company (Hillwood) in charge of Victory Park seems to still be sticking to their “city within a city” concept. Also, much of the conversation swirling around the future of the development centers on the AAC. I think that’s a huge mistake. The AAC should be seen as a happy coincidence but not as the anchor and life-breath of the development. Mavs games, Stars games and concerts are tantamount to only a few hours of foot traffic, at most, on event nights. And the even itself is usually so pricey that, in this economy, parking and tickets and a beer are pretty much all a budget will allow. So I don’t know why the entire AAC crowd is not set aside. Remember that the crowd attending a game are generally not even there during typical retail hours and games end after normal restaurant closing hours?

So that takes us back to this “city within a city” business. First off, that’s not viable because the only people who could afford to live within your self-described city can’t do so anymore and won’t be able to do so in any substantial numbers for the foreseeable future. But even if that were a viable concept, you haven’t built a city within a city. You’ve built the East Springfield that Homer Simpson built when he was indignant over a new area code, complete with walls made of garbage and refuge. Where do your city-within-a-city’s resident’s buy toilet paper? Where do they get their prescriptions filled? It’s 9pm and they want to have a bowl of cereal but they don’t have any milk. Where can one purchase a gallon of milk in the city-within-a-city? Will they have to go to some sort of MilkBar where they will be charged a cover and pay for premium top shelf milk while a DJ pumps out a clumsily-made mash up? I get that Victory Park is for people who love the nightlife but even people who love the nightlife need toothpaste and dishwasher detergent and some magazines.

Giving up on the city within a city concept could be the best thing that could happen for Hillwood and, more importantly, me. I live within 10 minutes of Victory Park. There is only one Target in the immediate downtown area and it’s not so hot. While I am no fan of their schlumptastic couture, Old Navy sells cheap clothes that I can wear to work. The only problem? There’s not a single one south of LBJ. But I understand Victory Park wanting to stay hip and keep its edge. Let me drop a few names on you right now, Hillwood: H&M, Marimekko, Ikea. You mix a few of those with some universal appeal places like Old Navy and you’re starting to cook with oil. You might say that either a) those places are too down market or b) that there are too many low income households in the Dallas/East Dallas/South Dallas area to keep those kinds of businesses afloat. To that I say, a) nothing is more down market than a Hard Fucking Rock Café b) I think that it’s very cynical to believe that low to middle income houses prefer to buy crap. Example: I hear people constantly say that they would love this or that from Ikea but that there is no way they are willing to drive all the way “up there”. So if given a choice between shopping in a litter-strewn Ross or Big Lots to buy a $6 pillow or $10 lamp or shopping in a clean Ikea to buy something comparably priced, I think that Ikea wins each time.

I am just saying this: it seems like you have two options here. You can keep trying to make Victory Park into a self-sustaining upper-middle class residential neighborhood which relies heavily on game nights for increased business and foot traffic. Or you can make Victory Park an actual commercial retail and restaurant development and let people know that even if you don’t live in the neighborhood, there is plenty of shopping and eating and revelry to be had in Victory Park for you. You don’t have to worry about paying for parking unless it’s a game night. All that scary stuff you heard about crime and confusing one-way streets and snotty salespeople and stores that spray vinegar in your eyes and bum toss you out when they realize you don’t make six figures? That’s all gone. We want your money. What little you have, you can spend here and leave with more than a foam finger and a doggie bag. If you live in Lakewood or East Dallas or Bishop Arts and you need some placemats and nice scented candles or maybe a skirt to wear to work, why not come down to Victory Park? Bring your friends and sit down and have a nice lunch for under $10 a head.

The burden is not on the retailers, it’s on Hillwood. They are going to have to beg and grovel for franchises to give them a second chance after originally being the self-proclaimed arbiters of good taste who deemed certain franchises too lowbrow. They are going to have to entice bar owners to open Old Monk and Idle Rich type pubs which encourage people to drink before and after Mavs games and eventually, on nights when there are no games happening. They are going to have to get the word out that the old concept of Victory Park is dead. They are going to essentially have to write a huge, groveling “Take Me Back” card to the city of Dallas to win back business. They are going to have to slash rents for retail spaces dramatically and take a hit for the time being if they stand any chance of not taking the disastrous hit of the whole thing failing and imploding once the development across from NorthPark gets fully up and running.

I am assuming that since I am not in retail and restaurant development or city planning, there is something atrociously wrong or undoable about this idea. I just want to know what it is so I can let go of my hopes of one day being able to go down to Victory Park and stroll around and shop for clothes and housewares and have a nice lunch with my friends. Provided I produce the proper documentation required of non-residential outsiders requesting one-day visitors passes.


Drew said...

Okay so if that doesn't work how about Mr. Perot fills all that space with stuff that does fit the existing architecture and that everyone would like anyway. At least Carl and me. Like lots and lots of video games. And sexbots like in "Artificial Intelligence". Some could look like Japanese school girls but it would be, like, okay because they would be robots. And a bunch of neon, day and night. Blue green. And lasers. And all the food could be bought from machines. And no clocks, that way you'd want to stay for a long time and play video games between sexbots. The secret is not to try to be less Dallas but MORE Dallas. Like a 21st century Brasilia on the prairie. With lasers. And sexbots.

Tom said...

I think the Victory Park you are looking for may have just opened at Park Lane and Central Expressway.
Right now, it's just Dick's Sporting Goods and Nordstrom Rack, but many more stores and restaurants are on the way, including Old Navy.
Hillwood rolled the dice and lost. But that doesn't mean it can't recover if the economy does.

L Shrimpton said...

What Victory Park needs is a "SnoodleCenter", a new chain of snoodle-friendly establishments that cater to snoodlers and/or those interested in the snoodling lifestyle. I feel it would be in keeping with the cultural zeitgeist in a way that could only bolster the peripheral businesses, as we all know that snoodlers shop, and eat food, and watch sports, after they are snoodled-out.
Also i feel it could benefit from a Dr. BabyProofer.