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Future-Proofing The Boom: As Collin County Development Soars, So Does Need For Long-Term Planning

As one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, Collin County is often viewed by developers as a gold mine of opportunity. But as cities in the region enter a new phase of growth, experts say strategic planning is critical to ensure long-term success.

Development of Dallas’ outer-ring suburbs has been underway for decades. Over the past several years, though, activity has accelerated. Billions of dollars worth of projects have cropped up across McKinney, Plano, Frisco and Allen as companies seek to bring more amenities and services to the county’s booming populace. 

“The proliferation of growth has been really tremendous,” Omni PGA Frisco Resort Vice President and Managing Director Jeff Smith said at a Sept. 22 Bisnow event held at the Sheraton McKinney. “It feels like there are more cranes in that area of the world than Dubai.”

City of McKinney's George Fuller, Johnson Development's Robert Ditthardt, Craig International's David Craig, Trammell Crow Co.'s Kevin Hickman and Omni PGA Frisco Resort's Jeff Hill

Among those projects is Smith’s new Omni PGA Resort in Frisco, set to open in the spring. The $520M, 500-room resort — which also includes 127K SF of meeting space, several golf courses, 13 restaurants and a retail village — is part of the a mile-long campus that recently became home to the PGA of Americas headquarters.

A few miles down State Highway 121 in McKinney is Craig International’s latest project, District 121. The $250M mixed-use project, located next door to the Craig Ranch development, will include 600K SF of office space, a 102-key boutique hotel, 4.5K SF of retail and a 1-acre park. 

“I’ve been [developing in the] 121 corridor for 22 years, and only in the last 18 months I’ve become an overnight success,” Craig International owner David Craig joked. “It’s because of the growth in the corridor; the development of the corridor defines you.”

Years of careful planning went into the progress unfolding in Collin County today, and more is needed to usher the region into its next era, said Maher Maso, principal at Ryan and former mayor of Frisco. The most recent census put the county’s population at just over 1 million, but demographers predict that number will more than double by 2050. 

“Growth is coming, it has been coming,” he said. “It’s going to continue coming no matter what, and that planning is critical to keep things sustainable.”

More public infrastructure, as well as the upkeep of existing buildings and roads, is needed to accommodate investment by the private sector, Maso said. There will come a day when expenses outweigh money brought in by new development, which is why financial prudence is so critical to the success of growing cities in Collin County.  

“The No. 1 thing is to prepare, because that type of hypergrowth can be a disaster if communities don’t know where they are going,” Maso said.

Kensington Vanguard National Title's Zach Sams, Ryan Co.'s Paul Rowsey, Heady Investments' Sayres Heady and Ryan's Maher Maso

Some of that prep work is already occurring. The North Texas Tollway Authority wrapped up its $200M widening of State Highway 121 last year, and its extension of the Dallas North Tollway past U.S. 380 near Prosper is well underway.

Road construction, while frustrating, is an investment in future growth, Ryan Cos. Vice President of the South Central Region Paul Rowsey said. Improved capacity on highways and tollways translates to less traffic and easier commutes, which is attractive to companies moving to North Texas. It also paves the way for future development, he said. 

“The Main and Main locations [of the next] 20 years probably don’t exist yet,” he said. “Those developments, those master plans are just being thought about today. The world is our oyster; it’s about sustainability and how we maintain and continue to grow great real estate that will really be on the world stage.”

Despite the importance of easy commutes, developers understand many companies prioritize live-work-play in their relocation decisions and have responded by bringing their projects closer to the communities they serve.

“Development nowadays, we are not trying to necessarily take cars off the road, but to provide the housing, the amenities and the workplace so that you don't have to drive an hour to get to work, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to your doctor’s office,” said Robert Ditthardt, vice president and general manager of Johnson Development, which is heading up the expansion of the Trinity Falls master-planned community in McKinney.

Another way to ensure developments are well-positioned for the future is through public-private partnerships. The $1B Collin Creek Mall redevelopment in Plano, for example, is a joint venture between the city of Plano and Centurion American that involves millions of dollars of public funds. 

The 99-acre property, once built out, will include around 500 townhomes, 2,300 apartments, 200 senior living units, retail, office space and a hotel. It will also be connected to Dallas Area Rapid Transit bus and light-rail service, city of Plano Director of Special Projects Peter Braster said.

Collin Creek Mall would not have been redeveloped without our help,” Braster said. “It’s really its own little village, but it’s absolutely networked into the remainder of Plano.”

The redevelopment of Hall Park is also the result of a public-private partnership between Hall Group and the city of Frisco. The project demolished two office buildings in favor of a $30M park, of which the city is contributing $15M. The project, which also includes a 400K SF office building, a 193-room hotel and a residential tower, is set to debut in late 2023.

Scheef & Stone's Mark Hill, Hall Group's Rena Padachy, Omniplan's Tip Housewright, City of Plano's Peter Braster and Centurion American's Sean Terry

Rena Padachy, Hall Group’s vice president of leasing, said Craig Hall had envisioned the redeveloped office park before the onset of the pandemic, but that event made it all the more clear that priorities had changed.

“The typical office park and office environments were becoming something of the past,” she said. “We knew we needed to create something more special for our tenancy there.”

A future-focused approach, both on the part of developers and elected officials, is key to the continued success of the region, Maher said. Immediate gratification is not something leaders should strive for; rather, decisions should be made based on what a community will look like years down the road, when many of those decision-makers are no longer around, he said.

“Things that were done 10, 15 or 30 years ago, those elected officials never saw them, they never got credit for them, but those were the best decisions for their communities,” Maso said. “Whenever you see someone patting their chest and telling you how great they are, run. Because what they should be doing is thinking of sustainability and the decisions that will be able to hold this growth.”