Friday, February 20, 2009

Has Frisco Lost Its Mojo?

Flashback to 2004. The economy is chugging along. North Texas is thriving and little bitty Frisco is blooming into a regional economic powerhouse. Stonebriar Centre mall is the dynamo driving the growth, with additional outparcels filling as fast as they can be built. Target. Best Buy. TJ Maxx. And on the horizon, the Metroplex’s first IKEA. Companies were lining up to open their shops north of 121.

Jim Gandy, president of Frisco’s Economic Development Corporation, tells the story of how the developer of Stonebriar Centre, General Growth Properties, chose Frisco over our southern neighbor, Plano, as the site of their new shopping center. As the legend goes, the president of General Growth was driving up 121 with his wife and asked her which side of the street she preferred. Her choice – along with countless hours of negotiation – set in motion one of the most successful retail developments in the United States.

Now, five years later, the story has changed. Development around the mall has filled out, though there are a few pockets of new businesses here and there. Meanwhile, other parts of town have been slow to take off. The one area that was to be our crown jewel – Frisco Square and the area around Pizza Hut Park – has been a dud. Take a drive through the square on a weekend evening and you’ll find that foot traffic is pretty sparse. Even when there’s an event across the street, the fans generally clear out shortly after it ends.

Meanwhile, our neighbors haven’t been sitting still. Plano has developed the Shops at Legacy, attracting the kinds of retail, dining and entertainment that Frisco Square wishes it had. Further east, Watter’s Creek at Montgomery Farm in Allen has an innovative design that puts Frisco’s flat, vintage-1980 strip-mall aesthetic to shame. Just up the road, the Village at Fairview is set to open this summer, the first new mall to seriously challenge Stonebriar since it opened in 2000. (They even managed to slip in a Dog Park, something we’ve been struggling with for years.)

As far as being the place to go in North Texas, Frisco has definitely lost its mojo.

There are some signs that Frisco will right its slipping tiara. The new toll bridge across Lake Lewisville opens a path for a whole new set of shoppers to make it to IKEA. And the expansion of Deja Blue arena in the StarCenter will give us the premier mid-sized concert venue north of Dallas. But unless we put some creativity into leveraging these resources, neighboring cities will continue to siphon retail tax dollars away from us.

Don’t think it matters? Take a look at our city budget. Currently, we enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the area. You can thank Mrs. Stonebriar Mall for that. Over the years, we’ve been one of only three cities in Texas with a population under 100,000 to rank in the top 20 of sales tax revenue (Round Rock and Sugarland are the other two). We’ve now crested that population mark, and our per capita tax revenue is starting to slip. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to raise the property tax rate to offset the dwindling retail pool.

How can Frisco get its groove back? It’s going to take the same kind of forward thinking and creative financing that started things moving a decade ago. The national economic slowdown means we can’t count on growing our way to prosperity. We have to attract the businesses and build the kinds of shopping areas that will entice people to drive over the new bridge, or stick around town after the concert, or come early before the soccer game for dinner.

Thinking of running for one of the two city council seats this May? To get my vote, you’ll need to come up with some new ideas reignite Frisco’s mojo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Biehl, I recently came across an article you wrote about the loss of retail mojo in Frisco. I totally agree, we have lost our flair for progression. I am apart of an organization called "AFM Productions" Art.Fashion.Music. This organization is headed by a fabulous designer named Antonio Wingfield. We were discussing the closed mindness in some of the smaller cities that are surrounding Dallas. I think if Frisco starts to focus more on the Arts scene and give more grants to starving artist the retail mojo will return. The city needs to concentrate on the core rather than the shell. For instant I am a fashion designer here right in the backyard of Frisco. There really is no venue for me to showcase my work. Why not create a community for designers, artist, poets, and dancers to really showcase their talent. Almost like the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. Frisco needs a buzz so that it will attract more attention to the area. Also create a swanky night life here, it would be amazing. People love going to upscale and chic clubs, it would be a big hit here in Frisco! Here are some ideas, so lets create a buzz!

Abdulrahman Skinner