When plans were announced around 1999 to build a new arena in Dallas on a location that included an aging power plant, a railroad maintenance facility, and a city dump, Stars CEO Jim Lites was both curious and excited.
Curious, because he understood how difficult it would be to transform the land into the American Airlines Center, and excited about the potential impact that transformation could have on the City of Dallas. More than 20 years later, the growth continues in Victory Park with a deal that could have impact for another 20 years going forward.
[READ MORE: Stars' parent company, Hillwood announce real estate deal involving land contiguous to American Airlines Center]
Northland Properties, the parent company for the Stars, announced on Wednesday the acquisition of two properties from Hillwood that are adjacent to the American Airlines Center and will provide the opportunity for future development of a hotel, a conference center, and other facilities that can expand on the impact of the arena.
"I go back to 1999 when we first started talking about Victory when it was still utility cooling ponds and a railroad site, basically a mess. It was an eyesore, and now to think about what has been created here, it really is amazing and beautiful," Lites said, adding that the purchase of the Stars by the Gaglardi Family in 2011 has been an incredible catalyst in the development.
"We've all been determined to control our destiny in that area, because I believe it's the best location for any arena in North America. It really is now one of the centers of Dallas, and so we want to take advantage of that."
The Gaglardi family, which owns Northland Properties and the Stars, has long been in the business of building, developing and running hotels and restaurants. Since the acquisition of the Stars and subsequently the AHL's Texas Stars in Cedar Park, Tom Gaglardi has been busy expanding his business opportunities in both North Texas and around the Austin area. This purchase fits right into what he envisions for his business.
"It's become such an exciting area. I live there, so I've seen it," Gaglardi said of the Victory Park development around the arena. "Six or seven years ago, if it wasn't a game night, it was pretty quiet. That's changing now. I'm excited about it. It's a pretty important building to D/FW, it's the second-busiest arena in American and sixth-busiest in the world. It's a beautiful building and it's got lots of runway to get even better.
"We're excited about the development for everything around the building and how that will impact the plans for American Airlines Center in the next 20-odd years."
The two packages of land are right across the street from the arena on the north and west sides, giving not only access to the building, but the ability to expand the building outward. Lites said the organization envisions development that not only offers building businesses adjacent to American Airlines Center but also allows connection with those buildings.
"If you control the land around the building, you give yourself options, so we would like to be in control as much as we can be," Lites said. "This will not only allow us to build a hotel, but also allow us to plan for the next stages of the American Airlines Center, which could include potentially expanding concourses, moving some things around, and providing more amenities for the fans. We don't know what that will look like just yet, but we want to be able to use our vision."
The Stars are partners with the Mavericks and the City of Dallas, so all improvements will be joint operations. But Lites said he feels the negotiations with Hillwood serve as a good example of how the team can cooperate and get deals done.
"We think we are good partners, and we want to work together to make this area even better than it is," he said. "The potential for growth here is tremendous."
Lites added that just getting the sale of the two properties done took hundreds of hours of work, but allowed several entities to interact and bond. He said the business of the deal is important, because business can help fuel the success of the area and the success of the Stars.
"Clearly, we want to be successful financially, because when we are successful financially outside the hockey team, it helps the hockey team be better," Lites said. "It's all tied together, and we see this as a huge step going forward. We're proud of it and we're excited about it. It's been worked on by all sorts of people already, and there has been amazing cooperation already. It's a great sign of people working together."
Gaglardi's company has been busy expanding throughout the globe. It is developing properties throughout Canada and Europe, and it recently has been doing deals in Dallas, Cedar Park and Austin.
"It's a huge opportunity for our company in terms of diversification out of Canada," Gaglardi said. "We've built hotels in so many different locations, but these are special sites."
The Stars already have looked into arenas across the NHL for ideas and will obviously come up with a ton of their own plans. To understand the potential for what the area can become, Lites said all you have to do is look back to see how far Victory Park has come in 20 years.
"The fans will be able to enjoy this location for many years after we're gone, and that's important," Lites said. "We want to leave a great legacy here, and we think we're going to do that."
Or as Gaglardi put it: "It's an awesome opportunity, and an awesome responsibility. These are changes that can last for a couple of generations or more."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.