How Frisco lured the Cowboys — and what Arlington did about it

The bad news came in a phone call from Jerry Jones, who had decided where he was going to build his Dallas Cowboys’ new world headquarters, 12,000-seat multiuse stadium and all training operations.

Robert Cluck, Arlington mayor on that spring day in 2013, said he wanted the project to nestle against the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009. In fact, many city leaders had considered it a no-brainer.

It was not to be. Everything instead would go to Frisco, a boomtown of 150,000 people about 35 miles northeast, a community on a roll with several other major developments in the works.

“I was disappointed,” Cluck said. “But they were able to offer the Cowboys a much better deal than we could.”

The Frisco coup became an issue in the 2015 mayoral race, which Cluck — whose vision had led to the construction of what is now AT&T Stadium — would lose. Current Mayor Jeff Williams ran a campaign emphasizing that the city had become “stagnant” after losing the Cowboys to Frisco and a new Toyota plant to Plano.

“It was extremely disappointing to lose it,” Williams said. “And not only the headquarters but the hotel and all the other things that were associated with it.”

To be sure, the city has enjoyed some successes since Williams took office, announcing six major economic development projects in the first seven months of his term. Council members say work on those projects began during, if not before, Cluck’s tenure; two of them involve longtime Arlington fixtures: the General Motors assembly plant and the Texas Rangers.

But the change in mayors itself has not led to making economic development a higher priority, council members Jimmy Bennett and Sheri Capehart said last week.

A shift in the last three or four years from using natural gas royalties to maintain city services to using it to power development is how Bennett explains it. Capehart points to the city’s diverse workforce, choice of school districts and partnerships with the University of Texas at Arlington and Tarrant County College as factors.

Landing the Cowboys

To lure the Cowboys, Frisco went early and big. Before Arlington or anyone else could put together a proposal — before the Cowboys had even formally asked for proposals, officials said — Frisco had stepped up with an offer the Cowboys couldn’t refuse.

The deal was $115 million in city and school district tax revenue and the chance to anchor a 91-acre mixed-use development that would include a 16-story Omni Hotel, a Baylor Scott & White Health sports medicine center and 2.7 million square feet of commercial and office space.

Officials estimate the value of the project — named The Star in Frisco — at $1 billion.

“I don’t think people realize how quickly that moved,” said David Quinn, vice president of the Frisco Economic Development Corp. “It was just about 90 days from the time the discussions started until the attorneys finished all the documents.”

Frisco was especially hungry for the deal because the Frisco school district and city, trying to provide for their rapidly growing population and enrollment, were already working on plans to build a stadium on their own.

Irving was also wooing the Cowboys, suggesting they use the site of the demolished Texas Stadium, their previous home field, said Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones. But Frisco’s bid sucked the wind out of their sails, and Irving didn’t follow up with a formal offer.

The Cowboys and Frisco have an intricate 25-year partnership in which the city will own and lease back to the Cowboys the indoor stadium, two outdoor practice fields and an underground parking garage on about 20 acres. Those facilities make up The Ford Center at The Star and will cost about $255 million.

The rest of The Star, including the Cowboys’ 80,000-square-foot headquarters in a 411,000-square-foot office building, will be developed and privately owned by the Cowboys. Team and Frisco officials said they were uncertain about how much the headquarters would add to the $255 million figure.

This month the Cowboys sold out private memberships to the Cowboys Club at the stadium, touting a luxury array of five-star dining options, bars, fitness facilities, a terrace, a rooftop pool and corporate meeting spaces.

Cluck said he came to terms with his disappointment as the project began taking shape.

“Now that I see what they’re building — it’s going to be really beautiful,” he said. “I have no hard feelings.”

Arlington booming, too

Arlington officials say economic development hasn’t slacked. They point to a half-dozen major developments announced last year, including a $1.4 billion expansion at the GM assembly plant — the largest single investment in the city’s history.

They also won what could be a significant consolation prize in December with the announcement of the Texas Live! project near Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Cordish Cos., based in Baltimore, are working with the city and the Texas Rangers on the $200 million hotel and entertainment project.

The development is expected to generate more than $2 billion in direct and indirect salaries over the first 40 years and about $100 million in annual economic output to the city and Tarrant County.

The hotel rooms are sorely needed in Arlington, which now has about 6,000 of them. City officials are also in talks with MGM Grand about a 750-room hotel as part of a 68,000-square-foot expansion of the Arlington Convention Center, which was built in 1985 and is immediately north of the ballpark.

Other projects the city announced last year include:

▪ Home builder D.R. Horton is investing more than $20 million to build a 150,000-square-foot campus and parking facility on 6 acres on the Interstate 30 frontage road just east of North Collins Street. It will move its headquarters back to Arlington from downtown Fort Worth.

▪ Trammell Crow Co. entered into an agreement with the city to develop an 18-acre site also at I-30 and North Collins. The site will be able to accommodate up to 1 million square feet of premier Class A office space.

▪ 101 Center, at the site of the former downtown library, will have high-end residential units above ground-level stores, restaurants and office space. The project will also include a parking garage. Construction is expected to be completed at nearly the same time as the new public library, City Council chamber and public plaza, to collectively form Arlington City Center in 2017.

▪ The 14-acre Champions Park mixed-use development will be at the northeast corner of Interstate 30 and North Collins in the entertainment district. It will have four retail/restaurant buildings totaling 54,000 square feet of inline space and four premier restaurant sites nestled into a half-acre festival park area.

Looking ahead

Last summer, the Arlington council laid the groundwork to create an economic development corporation to help bring about and fund business recruitment and redevelopment projects. City leaders have not decided how to fund it.

The city could allocate up to a quarter-cent — all it has remaining of the 2 cents per dollar that Texas cities can keep for themselves after sending 6.25 cents to the state. Arlington has a full cent allocated to bolstering its operating budget, a half-cent to paying its share of the AT&T Stadium debt and a quarter-cent to improving streets.

The city contracted for years with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce to work on economic development projects. About 2008, the city created its own department.

Williams has rejected the idea that his 99-square-mile city is virtually built out, citing two large tracts on opposite corners of the Texas 360-Interstate 20 juncture, one being the 167-acre home to the old Johnson & Johnson campus. So more big announcements could be around the corner.

But the Cowboys, the one that seemed to have inexplicably gotten away, caused enough pain among voters to lead to a change in mayors.

Stephen Jones said he and his father “had intense talks with Mayor Cluck,” adding: “Certainly having it right next to AT&T Stadium would have been possible. … I just think it boiled down to the resources. It gave Frisco an inherent edge.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST


Sports franchises

▪ Dallas Cowboys/AT&T Stadium

▪ Texas Rangers/Globe Life Park in Arlington

Recent major development projects

▪ General Motors expansion: $1.4 billion; 1.2 million square feet

▪ Texas Live! entertainment complex: $200 million; 100,000 square feet; 800 new jobs

▪ D.R. Horton headquarters: $20 million; 150,000 square feet; 500 employees



School district enrollment (2015-16)

63,401 students

Median household income (2009-13)



Sports franchises

▪ RoughRiders (Rangers Double-A team)/Dr Pepper Park

▪ FC Dallas (major-league soccer)/Toyota Stadium

Recent major development projects

▪ The Star in Frisco: $1 billion; stadium; 2.7 million square feet commercial/office; 4,500 jobs

▪ Wade Park: $2 billion; 12.5 million square feet office/retail; 35-story hotel and residential tower, 22,000 jobs

▪ Frisco Station: $1.7 billion; 9.8 million square feet office/retail/restaurants; 14,772 jobs



School district enrollment (2015-16)

56,904 students

Median household income (2009-13)


Sources: U.S. Census 2014 estimates; Frisco and Arlington city documents