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Billionaire Craig Hall Is On A Quest To Democratize Entrepreneurship

"That's why so many of us have stuck around for so long. His work ethic and survivability skills were amazing."

Hall Park gamble Hall's return to big-time real estate was a series of hang-it-out-there moves.

He gambled $60 million on two skyscrapers in 1994 and 1995, when most investors were avoiding downtown Dallas like the plague. He sold them three years later for nearly double his money, leading to a strategy of scooping up more than 1 million square feet of depressed, high-quality office properties.

He broke ground on Hall Park in 1997 with his own money and a small loan, before the Dallas North Tollway extended to Frisco. There wasn't even a road to the construction site. People thought he was nuts.

"When we had the grand opening of the first building, only six or seven brokers showed up, and we had food for 100 people," he told me 12 years ago. "It was a horrible waste of good shrimp."

Earlier this year, Hall's real estate division finished the 17th building at Hall Park, which now has an estimated market value of $750 million if Hall were in selling mode, which he's not. A master-plan redesign is underway that includes residential, retail and office to create a mixed-use community.

And he's finishing Hall Arts Hotel and Residences downtown, a 183-room, boutique hotel and 28-story high-rise of up to 50 condos that start at $2 million.

Hall Structured Finance is on track to lend $350 million to $450 million in construction loans this year.

"If I go back 50 years, there's never been a time so exciting as it is right now in terms of the transition that's going on and where I see the country going," Hall says. "The entrepreneurial opportunities in the next five to 10 years are just staggering."

But those opportunities need to be available to more than just the consolidated giants, which includes him when it comes to real estate development.

"On one hand, that's selfishly good. But on the other hand, it's elitist and anti what the American dream is all about," he says. "The problem with this consolidation is that not only do the big guys have lots of seats at the table, they own the table.

"At a minimum, we need to debate it and consciously decide that, 'OK, big is better' and therefore leave it to corporate Darwinism. But is that what we want? I don't think so."

So in conjunction with his 50th anniversary in business, Hall wrote his seventh book, BOOM: Bridging the Opportunity Gap to Reignite Startups, which is scheduled to be published by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon & Schuster in May.

He worries that America's entrepreneurial essence is being squeezed out for far too many people by too much regulation and too little capital and a trend toward consolidation.

The number of startups in the United States has declined for several decades, he says. And most of those that make it to market are in technology, spawned by big-headline unicorn deals in Silicon Valley, New York and Boston.

Traditional businesses can't get the time of day from investors with billion-dollar signs on their minds.

"The more we put roadblocks in people's way to start a new business, the more we lose part of our country," he says.

To put his book's mission into action, the Halls' foundation is starting with $1 million to provide grants that will help nonprofits support worthy entrepreneurs who might be otherwise left out in the cold.

"This is just the beginning," he says. "We'll do a lot more than that.

"I hope if I were born today that I'd still somehow make it," Hall says. "But we need to do something to make ourselves more receptive to new businesses. We need to help rural America. We need to help women and people of color. If you look at the statistics, the numbers aren't getting better, they're getting worse.

"We need to democratize entrepreneurship."

AT A GLANCE: Craig Hall Title: Founder, chairman and CEO of Hall Group Age: 68 Born: Ann Arbor, Mich. Resides: Dallas Education: Dropped out of college after three years at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan Personal: Married Kathryn Walt Hall in 1993. They have a blended family of one son, three daughters and eight grandchildren. Hall Group Founded: 1968 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Headquarters: Dallas Ownership: Craig and Kathryn Hall, their four children and eight grandchildren, with the exception of outside wine investors. Operations: Commercial real estate ownership, development and management; structured financial lending; winemaking; early-stage angel investments; and an extensive fine art collection. Annual revenue: In excess of $200 million Employees: Approximately 300 in Dallas, Frisco and Napa

SOURCES: Craig Hall and Hall Group

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