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The Key To Developer Craig Hall’s Success? Don’t Be Afraid To Tear Down Your Own Buildings

In the span of three decades, real estate developer Craig Hall, the founder of Hall Group, has become an iconic name in DFW commercial real estate circles and across the country. 

Ryan's Maher Maso with HALL Group founder Craig Hall.

While Craig Hall’s name on development paperwork is likely to give any deal instant credibility, the Michigan-native is now using his clout as a renowned-CRE sponsor to author a book, entitled “Boom: Bridging the Opportunity Gap to Reignite Startups.” 

The book advises politicians to draft regulations that will allow newer, less experienced developers and real estate entrepreneurs the ability to gain footholds in markets now dominated by sponsors like Jerry JonesRoss Perot Jr., and yes, even Craig Hall.

“If you look at any industry, we have been consolidating and there are fewer companies controlling more and more of everything, including real estate,” Hall said. “And that leads to a more difficult environment for new companies.” 

It seems strange for a preferred project sponsor to ask for more competition, but Hall built everything from the ground up in what he considered to be a more openly capitalistic society 30-plus years ago.

He failed a few times building concepts like a brand of racquetball clubs named after the Sports Illustrated brand, which he licensed from Time Inc. The clubs quickly went extinct after Hall realized they were not making any money.  

Hall Group founder Craig Hall with Ryan principal Maher Maso

Hall became aware of a decline in startup opportunities and activities in 2011 and started brainstorming solutions for putting capital, which is harder to obtain as a newer CRE sponsor these days, in the hands of startups. 

“The purpose of the book was to shine a light on the problem and talk about a solution,” Hall said while speaking at Bisnow’s 2019 State of the Market event.

Hall's book promotes policies he believes will create a level playing field for all entrepreneurs, including those wanting to develop commercial real estate. He said proceeds from the book will be allocated to nonprofits that are looking to help entrepreneurs and to encourage startups. 

In his public discussion at Bisnow's DFW State of the Market event, Hall inadvertently revealed some of the values that have informed his landmark career.

Here are just a few of the strategies Hall deployed to achieve CRE success:

1. Trust Your Instincts, Even When Everyone Calls You Crazy

Hall is known for buying and developing prairie land in Frisco, Texas, and transforming it into Hall Office Park in the late 1990s.

Hall made this play well before the the Dallas North Tollway fully expanded through the suburban city and before developers rushed in with a slew of office, mixed-use and retail developments. Hall Office Park is now at the epicenter of an economic boom that is sweeping Frisco, bringing in everything from Keurig Dr Pepper's new headquarters to the PGA's home office.  

Hall realized early on that Frisco had CRE potential, but Hall jokingly remembers he was called a few other choice names at the time — and none of them were very flattering.

"In terms of Frisco, I was more lucky than smart," Hall said. 

He recalled buying land in Frisco hoping to make money and then facing financial troubles when the real estate market crashed in the late '80s and '90s. 

"I spent the vast portion of my time working on problems and financial difficulties, he said. "But I did a few positive things as well, and some of them were buying land in Frisco." 

Hall decided to keep land where Hall Park is located since he believed the Tollway would eventual come, bringing development energy with it. He turned out to be right. 

2. When The Market Changes, Don't Be Afraid To Knock Down Your Own Buildings

Two buildings at Hall Park in Frisco are on the demolition block despite being only 12 and 14 years old, respectively.

Why? Hall did not foresee the live, work, play environment that now defines North Texas mixed-use developments when the development was first built, and he is ready to redesign his famed Frisco office park to meet these demands.

Hall hopes to build an apartment tower and a hotel. It may be a bit strange that he has to overhaul buildings that are far from outliving their useful life, but the demographics and demand changed his calculus, and he is always willing to play the long game.  

Hall Arts Residences and Hotel in the Dallas Arts District

3. Combine Your Passions With Your Business

Hall has a passion for wine, real estate and art, in no particular order. 

Hall Group operates in multiple disciplines — from real estate development, management and ownership to financial lending. The company's portfolio now includes Hall Park in Frisco and HALL Arts in the Dallas Arts District.

Businesses operating under his company's umbrella include HALL Structured Finance, and the vineyard and wine business that Hall's family runs, which includes HALL Wines, WALT Wines and BACA Wines in California. 

Virtually every Hall Group development in North Texas aims to highlight art, from the KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts, which includes restaurant space and 500K SF of office space, to the 183-room Hall Arts Hotel opening this year in the Dallas Arts District. Hall also is working on the 28-story luxury Hall Arts Residences in the same district, which opens in 2020.