Ask any rabid high school football player what his lifelong dream is and you are likely to hear of his hopes for a career with his favorite National Football League (NFL) team. That may be a lofty goal, but with the grand opening of The Ford Center at The Star, Frisco area football players will be one step closer to making this a reality.
This world-class, multi-use event center opened with a bang on Friday, August 27th, highlighting a remarkable partnership between the Dallas Cowboys, the City of Frisco and the Frisco Independent School District (FISD). The unique facility, like no other in Frisco sports, is designed to provide facilities for use by the Dallas Cowboys, the City of Frisco and FISD football and soccer high school teams. It will also stand as a facility for athletic, academic, fine arts and entertainment events.
Jerry Jones Jr., the Dallas Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, explains, “We have ambitious goals, and the vision here is to revolutionize sports on a global level. At The Star in Frisco, the high school athlete, amateur athlete, collegiate athlete and professional athlete will all play on the same field, and through this partnership, we believe we are setting the standard for the future of sports. It is a dynamic that has never been done in sports.”
Dr. Jeremy Lyon, the FISD superintendent, adds, “The partnership with the City and Cowboys came at just the right time for the FISD, as we had been exploring the need for a third stadium in addition to our current use of Memorial Stadium and Toyota Stadium. In 2017, we will have 10 high schools, and at least two more will be needed before build out. In no way could we have duplicated a stadium of this caliber on our own, spending the same amount for construction.” He continues, “Our philosophy in Frisco has always been to build smaller schools to provide opportunities for students to be successful. This partnership takes that set of opportunities for our students and does great things for them.”
Touted in conjunction with the $5 Billion Mile, The Ford Center is part of a 91-acre development in Frisco, which remains one of the country’s fastest-growing communities. The new $1.5 billion multi-use development includes the Dallas Cowboys’ World Headquarters and Training Facility, housing all of the team’s football operations, administrative and coaches’ offices, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, a 300-room Omni Hotel, the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor Walk, as well as additional retail and restaurant space. As the cornerstone of the complex, The Ford Center at The Star will feature a 12,000-seat multipurpose indoor stadium, as well as practice fields and a sports training complex.
Charlotte Jones Anderson, Mr. Jones’ daughter and Dallas Cowboys executive vice president and chief brand officer, adds, “When we thought about a project of this scale, we wondered to ourselves ‘who should get to enter the building first?’ And, when we thought about it, we answered this question by making sure all of the high school students and teams were here first. That is why all eight of the schools’ teams were here all on the same day, and the wonderful community of Frisco enjoyed an incredible jamboree when we opened the doors for the first time.” She continues, “As impressive as this structure is, I think the thing he would be proudest of is the connection this has to high school football,” she says, speaking of her dad, Jerry Jones. “I think deep down, knowing that he had a chance to leave a legacy on high school football, to build something for those kids that have dreams, and here is our opportunity to do this for the kids. This is a tribute to that.”
Announced in 2013, the partnership between these three powerhouses is perfectly timed. With construction nearing completion, The Ford Center at The Star is owned by the City of Frisco, and both the FISD and the Dallas Cowboys act as tenants of the facility. Through the agreement, the district is paying a $30 million contribution to the City, and these funds are being used toward construction of the multi-use event center. Once this initial outlay payment is completed, the FISD will pay no annual maintenance costs to use the stadium, resulting in a $250,000-$300,000 a year savings for the district. (As many have wondered, in no way does this allotment financially support the Dallas Cowboys headquarters or the Jones family). “Overall, this partnership has saved the FISD a great deal of money and gained us access to this amazing stadium. It is a win/win,” continues Dr. Lyon.
Originally, the FISD had the $30 million in bond money, earmarking it for construction before the City of Frisco and the Dallas Cowboys organization began discussing this opportunity. This money was generated from a Tax Increment Refinance Zone established in the late 1990s in the Stonebriar Centre area. Created through the taxable value of that area, the revenue was deposited into a special fund, allowing the district to participate in public-private partnerships and benefitting the growth and development in the area. When the opportunity to invest in The Star arose, all parties agreed it was an excellent opportunity.
In recent years, other neighboring communities have chosen a different path, investing in a standalone high school stadium costing between $50-60 million for each structure. These agreements have gained much publicity and notoriety from both surrounding and nationwide communities. Conversely, the agreement of the The Ford Center allows the FISD access and availability to the state-of-the-art, world class center, while saving money in the process. “It is very exciting to see it all coming together and actually happening as we hoped it would happen. The excitement is very, very high. Crews have been working around the clock, perfecting the details to make sure everything is right for the grand opening and beyond,” continues Dr. Lyons, speaking of The Star.
“This is another example of how great things happen when people come together to collaborate and partner for the good of the community,” says FISD school board president Renée Ehmke. “The economic impact of this project will be phenomenal, but the varied experiences provided to our students due to this partnership will be unparalleled. We could not be more excited.”
Since the Ford Center’s inception and throughout its development, the FISD has played an integral part in the design and planning of the multi-use events center, ensuring it is customized to meet the needs of its students, the faculty and the district as a whole. Beginning in 2013, staff members provided ongoing input to accommodate various programs, including the football, soccer and athletic training programs, as well as marching band, color guard, drill team, cheerleaders and audio/video production.
This input has led to specific tailored details, including two 200-person locker rooms that can be split into four, if needed, as well as full-size athlete lockers, bathrooms, showers and a dressing room. Marching bands will be provided bench seating, instead of traditional seating, so students with large instruments can sit and store their belongings properly. Halftime show performers will have direct access to the field, and the audio/video team will be offered their own press box on the southeast side of the stadium. Students will use state-of-the-art production equipment to run the game on the nation’s largest high school Jumbo Tron, and audio/video students will be offered field access to run sideline cameras for field shots and instant replays. Many thoughtful additions have been added to the center, providing ease of use and consideration to the students.
While the FISD will primarily use The Ford Center for football and soccer games, and the band, color guards and drill teams will be featured during the halftime performances, the district will also host graduation ceremonies at the facility each June, in addition to the already existing Dr Pepper Arena. The FISD will also utilize The Ford Center for staff-only events, such as the district’s annual Convocation Ceremony in August, as well as the Service Pin Ceremony, held each April.
While the district will benefit from the agreement, opportunities abound for FISD students in the form of internships and work programs. Frisco kids will operate cameras during FISD football games and serve as commentators for games broadcasted online. They will also manage graphics, animations and replays on the video boards as engineers in the broadcast booth. “We are excited about the opportunities available for our students through the FISD’s partnership with the City of Frisco and the Dallas Cowboys. It has brought several new partners and potential partners to the table, and as many of these relationships develop over time, we look for ways to work together and increase opportunities for our students. Our discussions and plans are ongoing, but we know this partnership and world-class facility will open many doors for our students,” notes Dr. Lyon.
With the upcoming football season upon us, a rotation of venues for the high schools’ teams has been put in place, including The Ford Center within that rotation. In doing so, the number of games that must be played on Thursday nights had been relieved. Dr. Lyon explains, “This season, one game will be played at each venue on Friday nights and one game will be played at The Ford Center at The Star on Thursday nights. Many considerations were made in regards to equity when planning the football schedule. We are ensuring that each high school team will play a similar number of games at The Ford Center this season, and each will also play a similar number of games on Thursday nights. We are taking all of these factors into consideration. We are excited to use The Ford Center at The Star for years to come. It is extraordinary that we have this amazing stadium for all kinds of student events and activities with no annual maintenance costs or fees. And, all ticket sales revenue from FISD events goes straight back to FISD programs,” says Dr. Lyon. “I cannot wait to see everyone at The Ford Center!”
Whether officially playing on an NFL team or next to one, Frisco high school students are bound to see, hear and feel the benefit of such high profile exposure. Who knows … maybe one (or more) of these FISD players might be the next member of America’s Team. Kids — you know how the old saying goes: “reach for the stars!”