Remember WhenFeb 01, 2018 ● By Dru Bickham
“Frisco used to be a small town, just like anywhere,” says former mayor Mike Simpson, who served on Frisco’s City Council from 2000-2002 and served as mayor of Frisco from 2002-2008. “But in the late 1980s, they started trying to come up with a plan to bring a mall out here, that would one day be Stonebriar Centre.” Bringing major retail to Frisco was the first step in the journey to making it a thriving development. At this time, Frisco’s population was at a mere 5,000 people, approximately, and taking on a big endeavor such as this seemed a bit far-reaching. But, that was the plan. This was a 12-year process, from inception to mall opening, and there were plenty of twists and turns along the way. “There were times when we did not think it was going to happen,” explains City Manager George Purefoy, who just celebrated his 30th anniversary in the position in November 2017. “There were a few times we lost the approval and we thought all was lost, but, in the end, we opened the mall in August 2000.” Former mayors Bob Warren and Kathy Seei were both in office while this major project was undertaken and helped see it through to its end. This was the catalyst to the boom of Frisco in the early 2000s.
When Mr. Simpson came into office in 2002, it was the start of a dynamic and exciting run for the City of Frisco. Coming off the success of the opening of Stonebriar Centre, Mr. Simpson’s term continued with highs as he celebrated the city’s centennial in 2002. Next came a series of projects that kept the momentum up for Frisco, which was essential to support the amount of growth the city was experiencing since the mall’s opening.
“I think what all the mayors over the years have tried to do is to continue to bring unique and interesting projects to the city, so that people remain interested in investing in our Frisco,” Mr. Purefoy asserts. Like bringing in a minor-league baseball team, the Frisco RoughRiders, and their home, Dr Pepper Ballpark. “After the mall opening, there was a huge residential and retail boom, and the housing market was growing like mad. We wanted to keep all that going, and bringing in the ballpark in April 2003 helped us do that,” says Mr. Simpson.
Once the ballpark and the team were in place, City Council and the mayor continued down the path of sports. The next major change to Frisco took place in 2004 with the addition of Dr Pepper Arena, home of the Dallas Stars. With the hockey arena in place, there were new opportunities to host events and bring other sports teams to Frisco. While the arena first served as home to the Texas Tornado junior hockey team, the facility is now home for the Texas Legends of the NBA G league and the Texas Revolution of Champions Indoor Football.
Mr. Purefoy says, “Something I think was equally important as the mall opening in 2000 was the project to extend the Dallas North Tollway up into Frisco and all the way to U.S. Highway 380.” Nowadays, it is hard to remember a time when there was not a fast and easy way from Frisco to the more southerly suburbs and Dallas proper, but this project was not taken on until the early to mid 1990s, and it was not completed until 2006 — the next big project completion during Mayor Simpson’s term. Mr. Purefoy continues, “That certainly opened up the west side of Frisco. We all thought the west side of Frisco would be the last part of it to develop, but now it is the place where so much is happening.”
The opening of the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Frisco Convention Center brought opportunities for meetings and gatherings of larger sizes, for more organizations and businesses to convene and discuss future plans. Not to be overlooked are the bond elections that took place in 2002 and 2006 that gave the City the funding it needed to pour money and resources into infrastructure, including new roads, a police station, fire stations and substations, a new City Hall, the Frisco Athletic Center, money towards the Parks and Recreation department and more. This rebuild of the City’s infrastructure brought it to its current splendor and allowed for continued residential and corporate growth.
Then, once again in the vein of sports, Toyota Stadium (previously Pizza Hut Park) was established in 2005. This moved the home of Major League Soccer (MLS) team FC Dallas from the Cotton Bowl to Frisco. “It also gained not only national, but international notice for Frisco when we had the MLS Cup and when the Hunt family brought in international soccer teams, as well as national teams,” Mr. Simpson shares. Frisco was getting noticed as a dynamic city, one where big things were happening, and it was only the beginning.
“The city has continued in the right direction,” says Mr. Simpson, admiringly. Specifically, the development that has been dubbed the $5 Billion Mile, which consists of some impressive new complexes and buildings sprawled across the Dallas North Tollway, and the addition of The Star, the new home to the Dallas Cowboys, have added significantly to Frisco’s prestige, allure and merit. These more recent endeavors were overseen by former mayor Maher Maso, and by the newest mayor, as of May 2017, Mayor Jeff Cheney.
“If you talk to people who have been here a while, they will say the great thing about Frisco is that the mayor, City Council, the Economic Development Corporation and the school district all work together, which is very unique. You do not find that cooperation everywhere,” explains Mr. Simpson. “So, having four mayors, and now five, in the past 20 or so years that have had that desire and ability to keep those relationships going is what has kept Frisco moving in a positive direction. You cannot say any one mayor is responsible for where we are now because we have all kept that momentum up. It takes a vision and it takes creativity to do it all.”
“Frisco is like a city manager’s dream job,” says Mr. Purefoy when asked about his 30-year career here. “There is nothing like coming into a city when it is at its ground level, watching it grow and having the blessing to see it through to the point that we have been able to get it to.”
Frisco is its own place of notice and success. Leaders are continuously executing new ideas and plans for its future. What is next? We know it will be big and prosperous if the City’s leadership continues in this positive, creative strategy. Looking back to see all we have accomplished in the last two decades and asking “remember when?” puts the present day into perspective and paints the future with bright potential.