Perfect Town, USA

Frisco wants to lure Andy and Opie with a Starbucks. Why is that an evil plan?

In Flower Mound, Parker Square pretends it isn't. Since it opened in 1999, Parker Square has given Flower Mound both tradition and traditional retail. Its Holiday Stroll on the Square events--with Christmas carolers in Victorian getups, Dickens plays being staged at the gazebo and over-the-top lighting displays by area businesses--bring in just about everyone in the city. Judging by today's turnout, the restaurants and retail keep them coming back throughout the year. Why wouldn't they? At just past noon on a lazy Friday in March, the sky is blue, the grass is green, the air is cool and the shopping is fabulous.

"It's been a great benefit for the community," says Jim Lang, Flower Mound's director of economic development. "I mean, everybody loves it."

Still, there's something about the place that feels artificial, and it's not necessarily the fiberglass benches that dot the terrain. It's not the parking lot filled to the brim with so many Explorers and jacked-up Lexuses that it comes across as either a playground for bored soccer moms or an SUV dealership. It's not the fact that one of the first businesses you see upon arriving is a laser skin center, the bread and butter of most strip malls. It's not even the multiple signs that warn: "No bikes, skateboards or roller blades," sucking the fun out of the place.

Nothing to see here: In a few years, Friscans can get frisky at Frisco Square. Right now, it's just a scale model.
Mark Graham
Nothing to see here: In a few years, Friscans can get frisky at Frisco Square. Right now, it's just a scale model.
Five Star Development's first town square, Parker Square in Flower Mound, is a living, breathing brochure for Frisco Square.
Mark Graham
Five Star Development's first town square, Parker Square in Flower Mound, is a living, breathing brochure for Frisco Square.

It's that, just down the street, seemingly in polar opposition to what's going on at Parker Square and everything Schwarz and McDowell believe in, there is The Highlands of Flower Mound, a well-to-do strip center that opened in February and is anchored by a Super Target. Across the street from The Highlands, another big commercial development is planned: Highlands Ranch, a 34-acre shopping center built around a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, a Western-themed spot complete with cattle guards and stone-strewn streams. Both projects will add 1 million square feet of commercial retail to the area and continue the big-box retail trend that projects like Parker Square supposedly should curb. It's clear from this that though Flower Mound's city planners appreciate Parker Square, it's not exactly what they're developing their city around. It's just another shopping center.

"We like to encourage the special projects that bring high quality," Lang says. "But that's a very general statement. I mean, you have to really look at each thing coming up...I hesitate to make that general statement, because then it sounds like, you know, we don't want Outback Steakhouse. Well, we do, actually."

It's a mess, really, if you look at it on paper. Even if you look at it in person. The attempts by Frisco's planners and developers to give the new-old city an identity and, just as important, a healthy tax base sound great. Individually. But when you put them together they don't quite fit, as though someone mixed up two boxes of jigsaw puzzle pieces, or stuck a white picket fence around Deep Ellum.

Think about it: A couple of miles away from Frisco Square is the Stonebriar Centre, the biggest, most active mall in North Texas. It's arguably a city unto itself, especially when you factor in all of the ancillary developments that have emerged in its shadow. Next door is a $300 million sports complex that includes the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark (the David M. Schwarz-designed home of the Texas Rangers' Double-A affiliate the Frisco RoughRiders) and the Dr Pepper StarCenter (home of the Texas Tornado, a Junior League hockey team, and a training facility for the Dallas Stars). Just up the road is a 115,000-square-foot convention center ready to go in April 2005. And just across Main Street from Frisco Square, the Dallas Burn's new stadium and soccer complex (with 17 additional fields) is set to open next year.

This doesn't even include the new hotels and office parks that are in the works, or the extension to the tollway that will open now that the state Highway 121 interchange is complete. Or, for that matter, Frisco Square.

When it is all said and done, an almost entirely new city will stand just to the left of where the old one used to be, and it'll be as big and powerful as any city, outside of Dallas and Fort Worth, in North Texas. Which will make it tough to maintain a small-town environment while incorporating the amenities of a big city, the stated goal of Frisco Square. "We laugh because a lot of people used to consider 121 sort of the edge of the earth," Hanson says. Frisco Square alone will be "one-third the size of downtown Fort Worth," she adds. "You know, it's huge."

This big, ambitious development had its serendipitous birth in the late 1990s. McDowell had started working on a residential development in Frisco; about the same time, the city was trying to decide what it wanted to do with the acreage it had bought and earmarked for its new city hall, how it possibly could lay out a new downtown around the building. City Manager George Purefoy served as a bridge between the separate projects. He had seen what was going on in Southlake and Flower Mound, and he thought something similar would work in Frisco. Together with city planning director John Lettellier, they began preliminary discussions. Eventually, Schwarz was brought in to start working on development standards and site layouts. All of this was strongly encouraged by then-Mayor Kathy Seei.

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