Small Towns, Big Growth: How Prosper’s Shrewd Development Strategy Drew Some Of The Most Famous Names In Texas
Every town has a story to tell and nowhere is that more true than in the rapidly changing and growing Dallas-Fort Worth area. This story is the latest in our bimonthly limited series Small Towns, Big Growth, which will profile communities undergoing rapid expansion.
When asked to describe Prosper’s growth strategy in one word, Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Mary Ann Moon said it depends who you ask. Some may call it snooty, but she prefers selective.
“We do want to set ourselves apart — there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “We do want to be exclusive … We don’t have our arms open to everybody and everything. We just can’t afford to do that because we have such a small footprint.”
At 27 square miles and a projected build-out of 75K SF, the town of Prosper has one of the smallest planning areas in the region. Located 35 miles due north of Dallas, Prosper’s population more than tripled to 30,174 in the decade leading up to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At full build-out, Prosper expects its population to land somewhere around 72,000. The town’s median household income is close to $141K, which Moon said makes Prosper the most affluent community in Collin County per capita.
Several events kick-started Prosper’s meteoric rise, including the urbanization of Dallas, which pushed many residents north in search of a quieter lifestyle. As more and more people moved to Prosper, the town’s strategic plan, which is updated on an annual basis, became even more crucial to its success.
“You must have a comprehensive strategy and a vision for your community,” Moon said. “If you do not, you run the risk of making some very poor decisions about growth."
One barrier to development in Prosper is the cost of land, which Moon said is among the most expensive in the region. Despite this, several deep-pocketed individuals broke ground on projects that helped put Prosper on the map.
“High standards are important,” Town Manager Harlan Jefferson said. “Quality attracts quality, and the opposite is true as well. One of the keys to our success is the quality of developers that we have in the community.”
One of the earliest and most influential investors in the town was Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, whose company Blue Star Land is responsible for The Gates of Prosper, a $1B master-planned retail center that opened at the northeast corner of US 380 and Preston Road in 2018. A second phase of the project kicked off in 2019 and added another 800 acres of restaurants and storefronts.
Jones’ success in Prosper legitimized the town for other developers, and in 2019, Prosper permitted more than 827K SF of new, nonresidential construction. Despite the pandemic, that number increased to 1.1M SF in 2020, according to Moon’s office.
“What [Blue Star has] done to spur development has been very positive for us, because when you see that kind of product and a company of that caliber invest in a community, people stand up and take note,” Moon said.
Over time, healthcare has become one of Prosper’s top industries. The town was recently selected as the north campus for Cook Children’s Medical Center, which is set to open this fall. Children’s Health has also committed to building a medical campus on a 72-acre site near the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and US 380. A big part of Moon’s job is to recruit ancillary businesses to support those campuses.
“It has been very helpful for us to be able to understand our resources and then target companies and businesses that can support all of those amenities and resources that we have,” she said.
Cook Children’s is expected to hire 450 people to work at its Prosper campus, and those people will need a place to live. This could be a challenge for Prosper, which is known for its large-lot single-family homes, the median value of which comes in around $435K. But Moon said housing variety is essential to Prosper’s continued growth. If the town is unable to offer a range of prices, workers may choose to live in other communities, which could hinder Prosper’s ability to attract commercial businesses.
“There’s very little understanding of how retailers and businesses go about the process of selecting where they are going to land,” she said. “They have to consider demographics, disposable income, traffic counts [and] rooftops. And if they don’t have the number that can equate to a profit for them, they’re not going to go into those areas.”
There are 5,000 multifamily units entitled for development in Prosper, and Moon said there are currently 900 in the pipeline approved for construction. While Jefferson recognizes there may be a need for more dense housing in the future, his staff intends to adhere to the vision residents have for the town.
“The community is what it is because the people are who they are,” he said. “Residents [may] still have a concern about too high of density, and if that’s the case, we are going to respect their wishes and develop accordingly.”
Developing in Prosper is notoriously expensive, but Moon said this could change as the town eyes its historic downtown as a site for revitalization. The rollout of Prosper’s Downtown Master Plan is set to begin this spring, and in order to attract the type of mom-and-pop businesses residents want to see in the area, the town will have to address the high cost of building.
“We are going to have to find ways to be more friendly to investors,” she said. “We’re going to have to find incentives, possibly, or assistance that we can offer to make certain that these people we want downtown can be successful.”
Another area of focus for Prosper is the land that fronts the Dallas North Tollway. In early 2020, the North Texas Tollway Authority began its 14-mile extension north of US 380. It also plans to add another four-lane segment of tollway between US 380 and FM 428 in Celina.
Moon said she hopes to see a mix of uses that will generate a high level of tax revenue for the town, including professional offices, restaurants, retail, grocers and entertainment venues.
“We don’t want to have a tollway that stretches through our 3 miles that has nothing but a wall on each side,” she said. “We want to make certain that whatever is along that tollway supports the vision that we have in the community.”
In 2020, residents of Prosper approved a $210M bond, much of which is aimed at improving infrastructure. This level of investment will likely make the town even more attractive to developers, but Moon said she plans to remain true to her strategy of selectivity.
“I have no hesitation to tell someone ‘No,’” she said. “If it’s not a fit for our community, if it doesn’t reflect the vision that we have, then we simply and respectfully say, ‘We’re not a good fit for you, maybe you should look at another community.’”