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Mayor Addresses Universal Theme Park Concerns

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Universal Studios | Image by Allen.G

Universal Parks & Resorts announced the planned arrival of a new theme park in Frisco last week, and the community has responded with concerns.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Frisco held a meeting following the announcement to address concerns from the community surrounding the new project, particularly traffic concerns at the top of Frisco residents’ minds.

Discussions continued this week during a Frisco City Council meeting.

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney looked to quell concerns and brought forth new data he learned shortly before the meeting, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“The number one reaction without question has been about traffic,” Cheney said.

He claimed, however, that “As proposed, it will actually be one of the lowest, if not the lowest, traffic generator projects on our entire stretch of the tollway.”

At the city council meeting, residents also raised concerns surrounding crime, human trafficking, the theme park’s business model, the type of employees the park will attract, city transparency on the deal, Frisco evolving into “Arlington 2.0,” and environmental impacts, according to The Dallas Morning News.

One couple spoke at the meeting, citing a case study of crime concentration in Orlando due to Universal Studios theme parks in the area.

“From 2015 to 2017, surrounding neighborhoods experienced a 198% increase in crime around the park, which resulted in a crime rate more than double the state and national average,” Zachary Countryman said. “Crime goes up around theme parks. My wife and I chose to live in Frisco in part because of its excellent safety record. We would hate to see that change in the wrong direction.”

His wife, Laura Countryman, said Frisco’s quality of life is threatened by “bringing in theme parks to encroach on what’s essentially a bedroom community.”

“I don’t think that Universal’s incentives can offset the peace of mind that people sought when they chose to work and raise a family in Frisco,” she said.  “Our city identity is really not one of being a tourist trap, especially not for the sake of making a quick buck or a sensational headline.”

Mayor Cheney said the city council was aware of the study, and crime statistics were the first issue brought up during initial discussions with Universal.

He suggested that since the park is aimed at children, it will generate different results.

“The commitment to Frisco is to make sure it’s for the younger population, which wouldn’t bear that same fruit as far as crime goes,” Cheney said.

Cheney said one of the tenets of the deal was to confirm that Frisco would not face a “bait and switch” situation, where the park is for children, but then years later, roller coasters are built, and the park evolves into something completely different.

Emily Rottenberg questioned the park’s viability, geared for ages 3 through 9 with hours of operation during school. She also asked about the pay level of jobs created at the park and where employees would live.

“These aren’t C-level jobs. These aren’t high-paying jobs when you compare them to other jobs in the city of Frisco,” Rottenberg said. “Also where are the people who are going to take these low-paying jobs [to] live? Is there going to be apartments associated with it, higher density properties?” Rottenberg asked.

Rottenberg also raised concerns about the lack of transparency of the deal with the city compared to previous big announcements, like the PGA of America’s move to the city.

“They were really, really open about the PGA. that seemed to be transparent. This kind of seemed to be done after dark, late at night, thrown in … and then have an announcement sprung on the citizens,” she added.

Cheney chimed in, explaining that the announcements of Omni PGA Frisco and Dallas Cowboys headquarters The Star were announced and voted on the same day, and “part of that reason is that had it been announced in advance it would have potentially blown those deals up. That’s how a deal like this would normally be done.”

The mayor added that he worked with Universal to create a buffer between the announcement and the project’s start, so citizens can understand precisely what the project is and, more importantly, what the project is not, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“There is [sic] a lot of misperceptions about what is being proposed. … But that actually allows a full month of citizen input which we’ve never done on one of these large-scale public projects,” Cheney said.

Lastly, Eddy Williams questioned a $30 million incentive deal with Universal, an issue the mayor did not discuss.

“Is that strictly rumor? Or on the table,” Williams asked.

Cheney did say an agreement has yet to be completed with Universal, and when it is, it will be announced publicly.

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