AN OVERNIGHT SUCCESS . . . DECADES IN THE MAKING
The majority of the Dallas-Fort Worth media reported the recent news that Boeing would be locating the headquarters for its newly formed global services division in Plano’s Legacy West development, a 250-acre, mixed-use project at Dallas North Tollway and State Highway 1211. It’s safe to say that the local media crowed the news for a couple of reasons.
The announcement almost felt almost like sweet vindication. In 2001, Boeing had decided to take its headquarters location from Seattle to Chicago, snubbing Dallas and Denver in the process2. The rejection helped Dallas re-examine its priorities and focus on building a better central business district. And while “Plano” isn’t “downtown Dallas,” it is all North Texas. As we’ve written in previous blogs, the entirety of North Texas is enjoying good job growth and interest from corporations.
Getting back to Plano, it’s easy to see the attraction for a company like Boeing. The massive Legacy development is a suburban downtown, with a healthy live-work-play component. The area has attracted other companies, such as FedEx Office, Liberty Mutual and Toyota Motor Corp., all of which are moving regional headquarters in and around the Legacy area.
Though Plano is in an enviable position when it comes to attracting corporate relocations, getting there didn’t happen overnight. Less than 30 years ago, the Legacy area was a mostly a massive business park, with cows grazing on nearby pasture. There was no Dallas North Tollway. And the other main road, State Highway 121, was a two-lane highway, with frequent backups.
Plano was once a “bedroom community” of Dallas. People who moved there commuted to downtown Dallas or North Dallas. When Ross Perot eyed the massive amounts of land at what was then Dallas Parkway and Legacy Drive (near SH 121) in the 1980s, he envisioned a business park where he could place his company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and encourage other companies to build corporate campuses on the abundance of land.
The 250 acres became “Legacy Business Park,” and J.C. Penney, among others, joined EDS in the location. Other changes helped Plano grow, as well.
Dallas North Tollway and SH 121
The Dallas North Tollway opened in 1966, it provided a quick and easy route from downtown Dallas to what was then considered “far North Dallas” – Interstate 635/LBJ Freeway. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the tollway crept north, terminating at Legacy and SH 121 in the mid-1990s before continuing on through Frisco. In the meantime, SH 121 underwent its own massive facelift, morphing from a two-lane road into a six-to-eight lane tollway. When the 121 construction was complete, the drive from Fort Worth (at the southwest) to McKinney (on the northeast) became less of a hassle. More people moved to the area, but still commuted, for the most part.
As the Far North Dallas area infrastructure improved to the point where people weren’t bumping over country roads to get from Point A to Point B, the population followed. In the 1970s, Plano’s population hovered in the 70,000s. Between 1990-2000, the population increased from 128,713 people to 222,030 folks. The most recent statistics put Plano at 271,166 people.
The net domestic migration into Collin County (of which the majority of Plano is a part), also increased throughout the 2000s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total population of Collin County from 2010-2014 stood at 825,906. Approximately 7.5% of the population came from elsewhere.
Even better news for the region (and for the corporations that would ultimately relocate to the region), is that the population was – and continues to be – highly educated. That workforce began attracting corporations, who wanted skilled and trained staff to hire.
In the late 1990s, Electronic Data Systems’ (EDS) real estate team awarded Fehmi Karahan of Karahan Cos. the development contract to help convert part of Legacy Park into an “urban oasis.”3 Such a concept was very new – the idea of “urban nodes” was still mostly a theory.
Karahan’s first effort was the Shops at Legacy development, a mixed-use, residential, retail and office development, which opened in 2001 directly south of the business park. In 2005, EDS shuttered its headquarters and sold the 1.1-million-square-foot campus to KDC. KDC redeveloped the 1990s-era buildings into Campus at Legacy. The result is a highly amenitized community, which is what today’s workforce wants.
Rather than getting into their cars and driving elsewhere for drinks after the work day ends, workers want to walk down the street to a local restaurant. They want to be able to shop on their lunch hours without having to get in their cars. And, in many cases, employees want to live near where they work – either within walking distance or a very short car ride.
A Perfect Storm?
As can be seen, becoming a success story involves more than wishing it to happen. Several aspects needed to take place, not the least of which is plenty of ways to move people around – and plenty of amenities to keep them happy. Though congestion is an ever-increasing problem in and around Plano (and one that continually is being addressed by city officials), many regard it as a good problem to have, especially when the Boeings of the world take notice.