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Universal Studios selects firm to lead design of new $550 million Frisco theme park, sources say

The first-of-its-kind park, which has not yet been named, will include four or five different “lands” themed around Universal Studios characters and films.

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Architecture firm Gensler has been tapped to design the $550 million Universal Studios kids-geared theme park along the Dallas North Tollway in northwest Frisco, according to sources familiar with the project.

The first-of-its-kind park, which has not yet been named, will include four or five different “lands” themed around Universal Studios characters and films, according to prior descriptions from Universal. It will have rides, shows, a 300-room hotel, restaurants, shops and other typical amusement park amenities.

A spokesman for Gensler declined to officially confirm the firm’s selection as the designers of the Universal theme park, and the corporate communications team for Universal Destinations & Experiences, the division formerly called Universal Parks & Resorts, did not return an email requesting information.

But multiple sources connected to the project say it's headed Gensler's way.

The theme park will be part of the massive Fields development — the more than 2,500-acre masterplanned project in Frisco that also includes the PGA of Americas headquarters, the Omni PGA Frisco Resort, two 18-hole PGA championship golf courses, and thousands of high-end residential units ranging from luxury single-family to apartments and condos.

Gensler, the world’s largest architecture and design firm, was already the executive architect over the Fields development and is also the architect for Fields West, the 180-acre upscale urban village under development in the heart of the broader Fields development.

The plans for Fields West call for about 400,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space, along with 4 million square feet of office space and over 2,000 urban living residences. Two hotels — a Ritz Carlton and an Autograph Collection by Marriott — are planned for the Fields West site, and a third may be coming.

Gensler, which has a large office in Dallas, has extensive experience with theme parks. In January, the firm hired Disney’s former head “imagineer.”

Imagineers are the creative force behind the design and building of Disney theme parks, attractions, resorts and cruise ships.

Bob Weis, the former president of Walt Disney Imagineering, is joining Gensler as its global immersive experience design leader.

At Disney, Weis led over 200 major global projects from Shanghai to Tokyo and Paris, including Disney theme parks and resorts. In his new role, Weis will collaborate with Gensler project leads to design unique creative experiences for clients across various spaces, including entertainment, hospitality, retail, sports, mixed-use, cultural institutions and workplaces, according to an article by Architectural Record.  

There's no word yet on whether Weis will be involved in the theme park in Frisco.

Gensler has designed many high-profile, successful projects in North Texas, including the Legacy West mixed-use mega-project in Plano, The Star multi-use development in Frisco that’s built around the world headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, and the AT&T Discovery District, which dramatically transformed the telecom giant’s global headquarters in Dallas into an immersive, mixed-use urban campus that includes restaurants, retail and offices.

Among other Dallas-Fort Worth projects on its long list, Gensler designed Toyota Music Factory in Irving, the Frisco Public Library, and phase two of Klyde Warren Park, which added a 50,000-square-foot pavilion to the popular deck park on 1.2 acres built over the existing freeway through the heart of Dallas.

Frisco's City Council in March approved the special use permit for the Universal theme park on 97 acres of land at the northeast corner of Dallas North Tollway and Panther Creek Parkway. The council also approved a development agreement between the city and Universal Studios that included $12.7 million in economic incentives.

The park and a 300-room hotel on the property must open by June 2026 and meet other requirements to qualify for the economic incentives deal the City Council approved. Universal must document $550 million in capital expenditures on the park's construction, and it must be open no fewer than 260 days per year to get the incentive money.

According to Universal and City of Frisco planning officials, the 300-room hotel planned when the park opens will likely be expanded to 600 rooms shortly after the park opens.

According to an economic impact analysis, the park is expected to generate $30 million in city sales and property tax and $16.7 million in hotel occupancy tax over its first ten years of operation. 

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.

Universal Studios and city officials say the park will draw an estimated 20,000 visitors on weekends and holidays and smaller crowds of roughly 7,500 people on average weekdays.

Universal’s all-new concept will be specifically designed for families with young children. It will be more intimate and engaging for a younger audience than its other parks, Universal Studios executives said in community meetings and Planning & Zoning sessions held in the days since the park was announced.

This proposed park will vastly differ from Universal’s existing parks in the U.S. in Orlando and Hollywood – in size and scale of the experiences. This park will be designed for its intended audience – families with young children, Universal officials have said. Lush landscaping and natural sound barriers within and around the park will minimize sound and light intrusion into nearby neighborhoods.

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