Texas

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney Responds to Universal Concerns

With the announcement that Universal Parks & Resorts has bought a theme park site in Frisco along the Dallas North Toll Road, some residents are worried.

Last week, residents attending a meeting held by city officials at nearby Trent High School raised concerns about traffic. Discussions continued this week during a meeting of the Frisco City Council.

In response to the traffic problems, Mayor Jeff Cheney announced the new data, which he learned hours before the meeting.

“Certainly the number one reaction was to traffic,” Cheney said. “This is a 97-acre lot. The expected traffic impact is actually less than what HEB does on 14.6 acres. As predicted, this will be one of the lowest, if not the lowest, traffic generation project on our entire section of the toll road.”

Residents were also concerned about crime, human trafficking, the park’s business model, what kind of employees the park would bring in, the transparency of the city’s deal, making Frisco an “Arlington 2.0” and the environmental impact.

Several speakers, including Laura and Zachary Countryman, cited a peer-reviewed journal article about a case study of Orlando’s concentration of crime due to Universal Studios.

“From 2015 to 2017, there was a 198 percent increase in crime around the park in nearby areas, resulting in crime rates more than double the state and national average,” said Zachary Countryman. “Crime is on the rise around theme parks. My wife and I chose to live in Frisco in part because of its excellent safety record. We would hate to see this change go in the wrong direction.”

Laura Countryman said that Frisco’s excellent quality of life is under threat because “theme parks are encroaching on what is essentially a bedroom community.”

“I don’t think Universal’s incentives can compensate for the peace of mind that people who chose to work and raise a family in Frisco were looking for,” she said. “Our urban identity is not really a tourist trap, especially not for a quick buck or a headline sensation.”

Cheney said the council had read the study and the crime statistics were the first thing that came up during the initial discussions.

He said that this park, because the age is focused on children, will see different results.

“Frisco’s commitment is to make sure it’s for a younger population that doesn’t produce the same results in terms of crime,” Cheney said.

The mayor said part of the deal was to also confirm that there can be no bait and switch, saying the park is for kids, but then a decade later, there’s a roller coaster, and then it’s something completely different.

Emily Rottenberg questioned the sustainability of the park, designed for children aged 3 to 9, with open hours while they are in school. She was also concerned about the level of pay for the jobs created in the park and where employees live.

“These are not C-level positions. It’s not a very high paying job compared to other jobs in the city of Frisco,” Rottenberg said. “Besides, where do the people who are going to get these low-paying jobs live? Will apartments, properties with a higher density be associated with it?

Rottenberg also mentioned the “secret nature of the deal compared to other deals between Fields and the city”.

“They were very, very open about the PGA. It seemed transparent. It seemed to be done after dark, late at night, thrown in… and then reported to the citizens,” she said.

Cheney said of the PGA Frisco and Dallas Cowboys The Star headquarters announcements, “They were announced and voted on the same day. And part of the reason is that if it had been announced in advance, it could have caused these deals to fail. That’s how deals like this usually go.”

Cheney said the staff was working with Universal, so there will be a buffer after the announcement so that citizens can understand exactly what the project is and, more importantly, what it is not.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what is on offer… But it actually allows citizens to contribute for a whole month, which we have never done in any of these large-scale community projects,” Cheney said.

The mayor also addressed environmental issues, in particular the use of water.

“We have invested in reusing water pipes throughout the city,” he said. “Honestly, that was part of what allowed us to get the PGA… which saved us so much money. Star uses our water reuse lines and we will definitely be working with Universal because water has always been a big deal here in Frisco.”

Eddie Williams was concerned about a possible $30 million incentive deal, which the mayor did not discuss.

“Is this really a rumor? Or on the table? he asked.

Cheney said the deal with Universal has yet to be finalized and when it is, it will be announced publicly.

The mayor urged residents to attend future city hall meetings for more information.

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