Frisco, Texas, has a plan

An aerial view of the roadways and homes in a suburban neighborhood. The homes are all the same and arranged very neatly. The roads form the outline of the state of Texas. Illustration.

After engineering its own growth, can the Dallas suburb stay on
top?

It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. It was
named the best place to live in America by Money magazine in 2018.
It’s the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys and soon the
Professional Golfers’ Association. Its “$5 billion mile,” a
stretch of commercial development along the Dallas North Tollway,
may end up with more corporate office space than downtown
Dallas.

The city in question is Frisco, Texas, a suburb 30 miles north
of Dallas. Just 30 years ago it was a sleepy farm town of 6,000
people. But as the Dallas-Fort Worth area has attracted more and
more corporate relocations, Frisco has absorbed more than its fair
share of the growth and wealth that’s come with them.

Now home to around 190,000 people, Frisco can hardly be
considered a suburb at all, as residents can live, work, and play
within its 62 square miles. The city’s expansion has been
deliberate, and carefully engineered. But a number of nearby
suburbs have seen similar growth only to fall out of favor later,
suggesting potential pitfalls for Frisco. City leaders are now
tasked with saving Frisco from that fate.

“What we’re trying to avoid is being that bright star that
starts fading out, but [instead] actually maintains its appeal as
it ages, and maybe even has some more appeal,” says George
Purefoy, Frisco’s city manager since 1987. “That’s what
we’re hopeful will happen, but the story won’t be told for a
few more decades.”

Frisco’s location north of Dallas made its growth almost
inevitable.

The Dallas area’s explosive growth has tended to concentrate
north of the city, as the residents of the historically segregated
black neighborhoods in south Dallas have migrated to the suburbs in
the south, like Cedar Hill, Duncanville, and Lancaster, which
steadily grew between the 1970s and 1990s, while wealthier white
residents moved north.

The first ring of Dallas’s north suburbs—Carrollton,
Garland, Mesquite, and Richardson—were built out in the decades
after World War II. Plano, Frisco’s neighbor to the south, saw
similar growth in the 1980s and 1990s. Plano’s location along
both the existing portion of the Dallas North Tollway (DNT) and
Highway 75, two major transportation thoroughfares that dump Plano
commuters into the heart of downtown Dallas in a matter of minutes,
made it ripe for growth.

With a nudge from the city of Frisco, which saw the tollroad as
instrumental to future growth, the DNT was expanded north through
the middle of Frisco in the mid-1990s. With Highway 121 running
along Frisco’s southern border, the connection between the two
highways gave Frisco a major transportation corridor. One could go
south on the DNT and be in downtown Dallas in 20 minutes. Going
west on Highway 121 could take you to DFW Airport in the same
amount of time.

This set the stage for Frisco’s boom.

“City leaders knew growth was coming,” says John Lettelleir,
Frisco’s development services director. “It just came a lot
quicker than they thought. The city council decided we want to get
in front of this. We don’t want to just be another ‘disposable
suburb.’”

The city’s plan to become a destination suburb required good
schools, in-city entertainment, and high design and aesthetic
standards for both commercial and residential developers.

Frisco Independent School District went from one high school in
1993 to a whopping 10 high schools today. While the district
suffered growing pains along the way, Frisco ISD ranks sixth on
Niche’s best school districts in Texas list with an overall grade
of A-plus. This made Frisco an ideal town for families with young
children.

Frisco lured a minor league baseball team, the RoughRiders, to
town in 2003; the practice facility and headquarters for the
National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars the same year; and Major
League Soccer’s FC Dallas in 2005. The PGA is in the process of
moving its headquarters to Frisco, and two new golf courses will
host major PGA tour events.

But the crown jewel of Frisco’s professional sports
acquisitions is the Star, the headquarters and practice facility
for the Dallas Cowboys, which doubles as a mixed-use development
complete with high-end retail, commercial office space, and
restaurants and bars.

Opening in 2016, the Star is part of Frisco’s $5 Billion
Mile—which the city now calls the Frisco North Platinum
Corridor—and it further spurred commercial development at the key
corridor where the DNT and Highway 121 meet. The city and the
school district pitched in $90 million of the $261.60 million in
construction costs for the Ford Center at the Star, the
mini-stadium in the development where the Cowboys practice.

“I think there’s no doubt that part of the reasoning the new
council has for bringing in some of the sports franchises was to
hopefully bring some energy to Frisco,” Purefoy says. “The
development especially around the Star and Frisco Station now—and
hopefully around the PGA headquarters—we’re hopeful that will
encourage redevelopment into Frisco as it continues to age.”

 Icon
Sportswire via Getty Images Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel
Elliott runs across the goal line during the Dallas Cowboys OTA on
May 30, 2018 at The Star in Frisco, TX.

Luring sports franchises and entertainment complexes to town is
hardly a unique strategy for growing suburbs. Nearby Arlington,
Texas, is home to the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys’
mythic AT&T Stadium, in addition to a Six Flags amusement park
and water park. Arlington planted these attractions at a comparable
transportation corridor where Interstate 30 and Highway 360
meet.

But Frisco has better integrated these sports facilities into
the community. Frisco’s high schools often play their home
football games at the Star, and some of its high school baseball
games are played at Dr Pepper Ballpark, where the RoughRiders play.
City officials say they brought smaller sports complexes to
Frisco—as opposed to Arlington’s behemoths—because they
thought the games and the lower-key crowds they draw would be more
family-friendly.

But what has ultimately set Frisco apart from other fast-growing
suburbs are the strict design and construction standards the city
put in place prior to its boom. Residential and commercial
developers say building in Frisco isn’t easy because of thorough
inspections of newly constructed houses and open-space requirements
the city put in its comprehensive plans.

Frisco can get away with asking more of its developers because
the demand for both commercial and residential space is so high.
And many developers say they don’t see these requirements as a
negative. The requirements have forced developers to raise their
standards to meet Frisco’s, and the result is a suburb less
cookie-cutter than others built up in the same amount of time.

With the “high standards that Frisco has, the communities
there definitely look nice,” says Sean Ricks, president of the
Dallas-Fort Worth division of Trendmaker Homes, a homebuilder with
experience in Frisco. “You see some stuff there you don’t see
in other places. You’re not just seeing these small postage-stamp
amenities. Developers will put in high-quality amenities. They’re
thoughtful in their design.”

Frisco isn’t the only suburb of Dallas to reach such heights,
and the problems that plague its predecessors serve as a cautionary
tale. Young couples and wealth tend to gravitate to new
neighborhoods and towns, and the homes and storefronts left behind
can be a blight on the city and a drag on the city’s coffers.

Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the
Manhattan Institute, argues that funding for the maintenance of
infrastructure that makes suburban sprawl possible depends on the
continued growth of the suburb.

And when that growth inevitably slows and stops, that
infrastructure falls into a state of disrepair, businesses and
residents leave for a shiny new neighborhood, and property values
stagnate or drop, leading to lower property tax revenue. It’s a
vicious cycle that can send a once-proud neighborhood or town into
decline, with cracked streets and empty storefronts.

“Once a neighborhood is in their mind as a neighborhood
that’s going down, we’re already behind the eight ball,”
Lettelleir says. “It’s hard to change people’s perception of
a neighborhood. That’s why we try to get out in front.”

Is this Frisco’s fate? While the city won’t be able to
control how it’s perceived, Frisco can help by limiting
storefront vacancies and keeping the city’s coffers full in order
to maintain infrastructure. In some suburbs, this maintenance will
only be assured if the city continues to grow.

There are signs some residents have seen enough growth.
Frisco’s most recent comprehensive plan allows for a maximum
density of close to 375,000 residents. Frisco mayor Jeff Cheney was
quoted by the Dallas Morning News in March saying he’d like to
see a much lower number—around 275,000—and that “Density has
become the new four-letter word.”

If the growth stops, the city has to find other ways to generate
enough property tax value per acre to cover infrastructure
maintenance for that acre, or risk residents fleeing to the new hot
city.

 Getty
Images Attendees review course plans during a media event unveiling
the PGA of America’s new golf courses in Frisco, TX.

If growth stalls, the only way to increase property tax revenue
is to raise taxes, increase the value of the property on that acre,
or increase the amount of property on the acre. Otherwise, the city
would have to turn to the federal government for funding, something
antithetical to the state’s conservative orthodoxy.

Frisco is predominantly zoned for single-family housing, as are
all Dallas suburbs, so increasing the amount of property on these
acres would be thorny. When single-family neighborhoods become
entrenched in a city, they inevitably form a homeowners association
that fights any increase in housing density around the
neighborhood.

This fight is already happening in Frisco. A homeowners
association serving wealthy gated Stonebriar Legacy residential
areas near the intersection of 121 and the DNT has been vocal about
its opposition to mixed-use developments along this critical
commercial and transportation corridor, citing increased congestion
and general opposition to density.

“It’s fantastic that Frisco has the ‘best place to live in
the U.S.’ title,” the HOA’s president, Charles Bundren, told
the Dallas Morning News in March. “If we become an urban city, we
won’t be No. 1.”

Without more density, bringing in more revenue requires
increasing property values or raising taxes. When asked about
keeping Frisco on top, Lettelleir says the city wants to encourage
people to reinvest in their homes instead of moving on to the next
neighborhood or town. Reinvestment in the home, by adding a
swimming pool or doing other general renovations, would raise the
value of the property and thus the property tax revenue the city
brings in. Raising taxes is always an option but could be
problematic politically.

And both of these approaches raise housing costs at a time when
Frisco is already wrestling with the idea of affordable housing.
According to Zillow, the median price of a home in Frisco is
currently $399,300, which is high for the Dallas area. In the
aftermath of the housing bust in 2009, it was $261,000. Continued
growth in property values will make it harder for modest-income
residents, including those who work for the city and the school
district, to live in the city.

That leaves Frisco with a decision to make about which type of
city it wants to become as it ages: one with residents from a
diverse pool of backgrounds and incomes, or one that caters
exclusively to the wealthy.

“If people in Frisco and future residents of Frisco desire a
duplex where it’s not currently allowed, I think that we should
not have regulations in place that deny them that choice,”
Hendrix says. ”Over the long term, that is precisely what will
help Frisco maintain its health as a city—financially, socially,
culturally. It allows that kind of choice and freedom that is not
currently in place in Frisco.”

Lettelleir says the city is cognizant of growing
housing-affordability challenges but believes there’s no easy
fix. While there are Frisco residents who oppose density, corporate
relocations have brought people from the coasts to Frisco who
prefer a more dense and walkable urban landscape, potentially
enough people to offset the opposition.

While this debate won’t be settled any time soon, Frisco
continues to grow; Purefoy believes the city still has a third of
its land area left to develop. And new attractions continue to
arrive. Uber announced in September that Frisco Station, a luxury
mixed-use urban development next to the Star, will be the first
test site for its flying taxis.

And while debates about the future play out among the residents,
city leaders believe they can mediate disputes along the way, just
as they have during the city’s boom.

“There’s always gonna be a case where people are in
disagreement, but for the most part we’ve been successful in
bringing groups together,” Lettelleir says.

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
Frisco, Texas, has a plan