By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Luckily, my host for the day is not a megalomaniacal supervillain of indeterminate ethnicity, harboring a grudge and possibly a few WMDs. (I dont think.) Its an attractive woman named Debby.
Truth is, theres no scheme to take over the world by Five Star Development, the company Debby Hanson works for as director of marketing. North Texas, maybe.
Hanson is merely showing me around Frisco Square, Five Stars newest, most ambitious development, mixed-use and multigenerational. Five Star already has developed one town square project in Flower Mound, Parker Square, and several more have sprouted up in bedroom communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the past few years, most notably Southlake Town Square. But Frisco Square--the company line goes--is bigger and better than the others, less about quality of retail than quality of life. Though, of course, quality of retail is still very important.
They might be right. Frisco Square is located just beyond where the Dallas North Tollway meets state Highway 121, a 4 million-square-foot community full of pretty parks and tree-lined streets with garden medians, stores that were meant for window shopping and the best restaurants around. Not to mention gorgeous townhomes and the kind of turn-of-the-century architecture that makes men want to wear bowties and fedoras. Frisco's new city hall is there as well, near the church and library, giving it the anchor a real old-fashioned town square needs. And the town square--like the newborn ones in Southlake and Flower Mound--gives the city a sense of history and identity it lacks, even though Frisco is 100 years old.
Frisco Square is literally and metaphorically a Five Star Development, a pedestrian-friendly plot of heaven you'd never have to leave unless you wanted to. But you probably wouldn't want to, especially since there's a concierge on-site to cater to your every whim.
Despite my initial fear of the project's too-good-to-be-true intentions (this perfect suburban development eerily mimics Cypress Creek, run by the evil mastermind Scorpio in a famous episode of The Simpsons), it's clear the only danger is that another generation of boys might be saddled with the name Opie. The most convoluted assassination attempt here is the three-hour checkers tournament at the senior center.
The tour doesn't take very long because, right now, Frisco Square fits very comfortably on a table in a leasing office and on a map on the wall. You can walk the entire thing in 10, maybe 15 seconds. Step outside that leasing office, and it's difficult to take in the scope of the project, to buy what Five Star is selling.
Because there's not much here at the moment. There are a few four-story buildings that eventually will house all kinds of retail and office tenants, with apartments above them. (A few of them have moved in already.) The first phase of townhomes is ready and waiting, and some have even been sold. The aforementioned senior center recently opened on the premises. Everything else is under construction or still on the map.
"Truly this is an urban environment," Hanson says. "It's nothing like anyone in this part of the country will know. We have a lot of people from Chicago and New York who are here. They come in and get the concept immediately. But, you know, to us suburbanites who drive everywhere, it's just a completely different concept to them." She opens up another map of the site so her visitor can see what she means, pointing to make her points. "But we really want people to feel like, you know, we want you to live down here, and your office is up here, and you'll be able to walk on the way home and check out a book at the library and sit in Frisco Square on a Thursday night and listen to live jazz...Our owner is absolutely committed to building something that is a legacy for not only his kids, but their kids and their kids."
It sounds great. Exactly the kind of small-town environment everyone involved with Frisco and Frisco Square immediately tries to conjure up when talking about the project. Reality is eight years away. It could be as many as 12. It also may never come. During its rise from sleepy suburb to Plano-sized player--with a gigantic mall, two huge sports complexes and a prodigious convention center either already there or coming soon--Frisco already may become too much of a big city to be a small town again. In 12 years, Frisco Square may be just another strip mall. You could say the same for Southlake Town Square and Parker Square.
"These kind of semi-self-contained communities are often pitched as a solution to sprawl, and I think they're really more examples of sprawl," says writer Alex Marshall, whose book How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads Not Taken was published in 2001. He's written about, well, how cities work for the past decade. "And they tend to be kind of Trojan horses, where they allow sprawl to get in the doorway under different names.