On a Grand-er Scale

As the only city manager Frisco has ever known, George Purefoy has seen it all. Hired in 1987, he has witnessed the opening of Stonebriar Centre in 2000, Toyota Stadium in 2005 and more recently The Star in Frisco. However, one project, a 350-acre regional park north of Stonebrook Parkway known as Grand Park has yet to become reality under Purefoy’s watch. This idea was first proposed in 2004. Later that year, the city hired a project consultant. In 2005, the city began acquiring land and in 2006 completed an initial master plan and got bonds approved for a portion of the project.

Grand Park will feature a manmade lake, water jets, boat docks, a train depot, a kids’ area, several wetlands, a wind sculpture and other art, and trails for cycling, running or walking. But thanks to obstacles outside the city’s control, the land remains undeveloped.

“Well, I think the mayor and some other council members said it’s turned into an urban legend. I understand everyone’s frustration and concern about nothing being started,” Mr. Purefoy said. “But there’s no one trying to hold it up other than just trying to make sure we get all the boxes checked with all the different regulatory agencies to where we can actually do something.”

Once construction begins, the first order of business is building the 50-acre lake, a project which awaits a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a delay again due to external factors.

“This one has a lot of complexities to it,” Mr. Purefoy said. “Most of your projects just involve trying to make a deal as far as maybe a zoning use. Then, if it’s a project the city wants to incentivize, what are the incentives the city might give? This project is almost totally different in it’s a large piece of land the city has developed and mostly owns, but then you’ve got the complexities (of) Exide having put pollution down the creek for a number of years and the complexity of now two bankruptcies that have interrupted the process.”

The Elephant in the Room

Between 1964 and 2012, the white towers of the Exide battery recycling plant at 7471 South Fifth Street were a Frisco fixture. However, after Exide continually failed to meet environmental standards for lead emissions, the plant, which employed more than 100 people, was closed in late 2012 as part of an agreement with the city. The Frisco Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) purchased the buffer land adjacent to the plant.

For the past seven-plus years, the plant has gradually been dismantled and the surrounding land, which was contaminated with lead and its byproducts, has been being cleaned. In 2013, construction on Grand Park was about to begin but work was halted after a city pollution study determined Stewart Creek, which is near the Exide plant and flows through the middle of Grand Park, had also been contaminated. So, until the creek is cleaned and deemed safe, the project remains on hold.

Further complicating matters is the fact that in May 2020 Exide filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the company’s third filing since 2002. However, unlike the two previous cases (2013 and 2015), which were filed to reduce company debt, this latest bankruptcy is designed to facilitate the sale of company assets.

Exide was due to submit a cleanup plan to the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in June, a remedial action plan (RAP), which outlines specific steps the company will take to clean up the site. Since a big part of Exide’s RAP involves cleaning Stewart Creek, until that plan is submitted and cleanup is complete, Grand Park will remain delayed.

Mr. Purefoy said the city has been in contact with TCEQ to see how Exide’s latest bankruptcy is affecting its ability to submit a RAP and then get it approved. He said the city is also exploring what measures it can take to help accelerate this process.

“We would have liked to have started construction a decade ago,” Mr. Purefoy said. “We had a (date for) start of construction and then it became known that Exide had polluted the creek. (Had we proceeded) then you’d have issues about where do you put that dirt and having to go and probably take care of that dirt again. As hard as it is to maybe reconcile in your mind, it might be a blessing in disguise that it all came up when it did. Otherwise, there’s no telling what kind of issues we’d be dealing with today. The good thing is the city has land under ownership and if anything, now the Exide question has kind of been settled as far as what the future of the Exide property is going to be, whether it’s going to continue as a battery recycling plant or going to become some other use. That question’s been answered.”

Intriguing Possibilities

Grand Park is an ambitious project which spans 350 acres and balloons to 600 acres when including the planned green space on the former land occupied by Exide. The main entrance to Grand Park will be on the northbound side of Dallas Parkway between Stonebrook Parkway and Cotton Gin Road. The project’s master plan was last revised in October 2011, with the city soon exploring whether updating that plan is warranted.

“It’s going to be one of the topics at our summer work session, (asking) are there some things we can maybe get started on earlier? It’s been so long since we did the plan, we believe the council may want to take a step back, go back and look at the plan just to see whether there’s some changes that need to be made according to the needs of the city and the way the city has developed,” Mr. Purefoy said.

Frisco residents are intrigued by the possibilities Grand Park will offer in terms of outdoor recreation once it opens, whenever that may be. “I remember hearing about it a while back,” said Greg Shafer, who along with his family has called Frisco home since 2008. “That whole area down there is just kind of a dead spot. There are so many apartment buildings going up around here, it was nice to see the city say hey, we need some kind of a big park. The population density is increasing, so it was kind of refreshing to see they were going to allocate some land to build a big park, almost like a city park. Nothing like New York or San Francisco, but at least a big swath of land that they could put a lot of stuff in there. It’s not completely flat so they could do some things in terms of walkways, bike trails, running trails and maybe food trucks and stuff like that. It was refreshing to see that.”

Light at The End of the Tunnel

Despite the continuing hurdles to starting construction, Mr. Purefoy, who will only be Frisco’s city manager for a few more years, remains optimistic the project can still begin on his watch. Once the Army Corps of Engineers approves the permit for the lake, construction should begin in the next 12-18 months with construction of Grand Park’s first phase to follow.

“Well, obviously the life of the park construction is going to outlive my life here at the city. What I’d like to do in the last year or two that I’m here is try to get everything set so it can get started,” Mr. Purefoy said. “I’ve kind of given up on it being completed during my tenure. I’m going to try to do the best I can to get it teed up so that within the next year or two it can get started and hopefully completed a few years after that.”

Due to the number of regulatory agencies involved at the local, state and federal levels in this project and the considerable hurdles which need to be overcome before construction even starts, Mr. Purefoy ranks Grand Park as the most complex project he’s been involved with during his time as city manager, mainly because of its complexity. He’s had to use every bit of his 33 years of experience, even tapping into some new skills to help get this project started toward the finish line. “Well, part of what you got to do is to temper your emotions and try to stay even-keeled even though you’re just burning inside that you’ve haven’t gotten anything done yet,” Mr. Purefoy said.

Locals appreciate the city’s efforts to overcome these obstacles and begin construction because they know once Grand Park is built and open to the public, it will be an incredible addition to the community.

“They could do a lot of good stuff if they get the land cleaned up,” Shafer said. “We’re going to need it. It’s going to be nice if we have a place with a nice expanse of trees and stuff going on.”

An old saying states good things come to those who wait, and Frisco residents have been waiting to see Grand Park go from architectural renderings to reality for more than a decade. However, residents will have to wait a bit longer to see Frisco’s own urban park become a reality.