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Proposed Universal Studios theme park in Frisco set for votes on zoning and incentives

Universal Parks & Resorts plans to build a family-focused theme park with rides, shows and a 300-room hotel, on a 97-acre plot of land off the Dallas North Tollway.

FRISCO, Texas — Frisco City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission are set to vote Tuesday on a zoning permit that, if approved, will allow a controversial Universal Studios theme park to move ahead with construction.

Economic incentives for the project are also on the agenda in city meetings scheduled for Tuesday.

A joint City Council and P&Z meeting, set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at George A. Purefoy Municipal Center, 6101 Frisco Square Blvd., is open to the public. A public hearing will be held on Universal’s request for a specific use permit to allow an “outdoor commercial amusement venue” on 97.4 acres on the northeast corner of Dallas Parkway and Panther Creek Boulevard. 

The P&Z Commission is set to vote on the special use permit, then the City Council is slated to consider and potentially vote on an ordinance approving the permit.

The City Council is also slated to consider and act on a proposed development agreement among the city of Frisco, the Frisco Economic Development Corp., the Frisco Community Development Corp. and FTNV Corp, which is the Delaware-based shell company that acquired the land for the theme park.

A development agreement is a contract between the developer and the city that governs the development process. Development agreements can include economic incentives as well. 

The City Council is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in a closed-door session to get legal advice from the city attorney on the specific use permit as well as the proposed development agreement with FTNV. “Economic incentives and other related matters” will be discussed in the closed session, according to an agenda posted on the city’s web site Saturday evening.

On Jan. 11, Universal Parks & Resorts announced the purchase of the site on the Dallas North Tollway for a new, family-focused theme park with rides, shows and a 300-room hotel. 

Economic incentives for the new park will likely be part of the deal between the city and Universal, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney told the Dallas Business Journal in an interview shortly after the project was announced. The incentives won’t be tied to job creation numbers but will be tied to road and other infrastructure improvements made by the city to benefit the park in exchange for the sales tax revenue the park is expected to generate, Cheney said.

Fast-growing Frisco has become known for using public-private partnerships to make big projects happen in the city. The Omni PGA Frisco Hotel and Resort is one example. The Star, the $1.5 billion mixed-use development built around the world headquarters and practice facilities of the Dallas Cowboys, is another.

Both partnerships involve tax breaks and other incentives from the city of Frisco and the Frisco Independent School District in exchange for the jobs, tax revenue, prestige and economic impact the projects bring to town.

The theme park, if it’s built, will be part of the 2,500-acre-plus Fields development, which flanks the Dallas North Tollway and includes the PGA of America headquarters and the $520 million Omni PGA Frisco Hotel and Resort.

Universal estimates the park will result in “several thousand” jobs, ranging from construction roles to build the park to operations roles and leadership positions once the park opens, according a website Universal set up to answer questions about the project. Cheney said he expects the park to result in more than 1,000 full-time jobs when it's up and running.

The Universal Studios theme park in Frisco does not yet have a name.

The vote on a zoning permit for the park has been delayed twice.

The Frisco City Council and Planning & Zoning Committee were initially scheduled to vote on the specific use permit Feb. 7 but postponed the vote to Feb. 21. They then voted to postpone the meeting a second time to March 7 — a month after when the vote was first scheduled.

The theme park tailored for kids is planned on undeveloped land east of the Dallas North Tollway and north of Panther Creek Parkway. The park would draw an estimated 20,000 visitors on weekends and smaller crowds on weekdays, Universal and city officials say.

Frisco residents have spoken out against the theme park at multiple public forums, citing concerns about crime and traffic. The first signs of opposition surfaced in a meeting Jan. 11 held in the Trent Middle School cafeteria, just hours after Universal Parks & Resorts and city officials initially announced the plans.

Traffic, noise, the impact on surrounding property values and the appearance of the park topped the neighbors’ list of concerns.

The city has since conducted a traffic impact analysis prepared by Kimley-Horn and Associates for the proposed park. The report refers to a 600-room hotel, which would be twice as big as the 300-room hotel initially announced in the plans for the project.

“Upon buildout the theme park site is anticipated to attract 7,500 visitors on an average day and up to 20,000 visitors on the highest day,” the executive summary of the 206-page traffic analysis says. “For a very conservatively-high traffic total, the traffic from the 600-room hotel was added to the park attendance, as were the hotel staff and park staff.”

On a peak day with 20,000 visitors, the theme park visitor traffic would be 1,144 trips in the site’s peak inbound hour at about 9 a.m., and 921 trips in the site’s peak outbound hour at about 7 p.m., according to the study. The peak traffic will be roughly equivalent to the traffic that would be generated by a 2-million-square-foot office development at the site, according to the study.

The park will be family-friendly, catering to children under the age of 10, according to Universal and city leaders who spoke on behalf of the project at the initial meeting.

The roller coasters will be smaller than those at Universal’s bigger parks in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the property will be landscaped in such a way as to minimize noise, maximize visual appeal and buffer the park from the houses nearby, Universal’s representatives said.

The park would include four or five different “lands” themed around Universal Studios characters and films, said Page Thompson, president of New Ventures for Universal Parks & Resorts.

A few Frisco residents spoke in favor of the park at the special meeting of the City Council on Feb. 21, but the majority at the meeting were opposed to it. 

Some lobbied for a citizen's advisory committee to study potential traffic problems and for a public park or green space encircling the theme park that would buffer it and offer something for adults without kids.

Universal hasn’t set an opening date, but the park is expected to be operating in the next two to three years, city officials have said.

Universal Parks & Resorts, which is a unit of Comcast NBCUniversal, operates five theme parks and resorts around the world.

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