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Vote Saturday Could Decide Fate of Arts of Collin County

by Stephen Becker 12 May 2011 11:16 AM

The Arts of Collin County is an arts park planned for a 120 acre stretch of land in Allen. The complex is the vision of several cities and has been in the works for nearly 10 years. But a bond vote in Frisco this weekend could put the project in jeopardy:


The Arts of Collin County is an arts park planned for a 120 acre stretch of land in Allen. The complex is the vision of several cities and has been in the works for nearly 10 years. But a bond vote in Frisco this weekend could put the project in jeopardy:

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When Mike Simpson looks out across an empty field in Allen along State Highway 121, the executive director of The Arts of Collin County sees a future in which families from across the county will come together to enjoy the arts.

SIMPSON:  “The west side would be the 2,100 seat performing arts center, it would be all the parking, the infrastructure, the outdoor meadow – that holds 800-3,000 for events, outdoor concerts or festival-type things. And there’ll be hiking trails and biking trails and a trail right along Ridgeview, where we are right here.”

In 2002, the cities of Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney proposed to work together to build The Arts of Collin County. Private donations would be raised. And each community would contribute a portion of what remains to build and operate the center. Frisco, Allen and Plano voters all approved bond issues to pay for the facility, but McKinney voters declined to participate.

Now, on Saturday, Frisco voters will decide whether their community also pulls out.

Rick Mann is the executive editor of the Star Community Newspapers, which publishes papers in the affected communities.

MANN: “Frisco has gotten uglier over this. Politically ugly. I think that once this is over with they can rebound and get back to what they were, which is one of the greatest cities in the country. They had built themselves into that. And it’s being torn down from inside now. And whether they’re able to rebuild will tell a whole lot about the character of the people in the city.”

The land for the project has been donated. Plano, Allen and Frisco have already contributed some money to the project and would each be responsible for $16.4 million more to build it, plus ongoing operating costs.

Supporters of the arts facility say that it will generate economic activity, add to the area’s quality of life and attract new residents and businesses. The arts hall would also provide performance space for local arts groups and students.

James Nunn has lived in Frisco for 12 years and helped organize the advocacy group Frisco Arts Matter.

NUNN: “That’s one of the things the earlier council was looking at – it’s really about creating that balance. For us to have a livable city, the citizens need to have access to all the opportunities, which includes the arts. Right now we don’t have that.”

Those in Frisco who want to reconsider the city’s commitment say the economy is too sluggish to invest in new buildings. Plus, Frisco’s population has grown and many current residents weren’t here when the city decided to invest in the project.

Pat Fallon is a city council member in Frisco. He says the arts are “vitally important,” but …

FALLON: “But this isn’t about the love of the arts. This is about a building. And a very expensive building. And a very underfunded building with private donations. And that’s really the crux of the issue. We’d like to do everything we can for our taxpayers, but we’re limited by the funds that we take in.”

Fallon is concerned about investing in the facility when there are a number of similar facilities within driving distance of Frisco.

FALLON: “If you talk to experts, of which I’m not, they’ll tell you you directly compete with like venues within 45 minutes. So we’re going to directly compete with Bass Hall, we’re going to directly compete with the Winspear and the rest of the AT&T Center, we’re going to directly compete with the Meyerson, and we’re going to directly compete with Fair Park and we’re going to directly compete with the Eisemann Center. And they all have established relationships. That’s going to be tough on us.”

Arts center supporters like Nunn disagree.

NUNN: “There is something to be said for having such a first-class project so close to Frisco. I live on the east side of town, and I know that I will be using the hike and bike trails. I know I will be going to the meadow for the outdoor performance. I do a lot. And I tend to make decisions as to what I’m going to do as to how far I have to travel away from Frisco. That’s just how I’ve been for a very long time.

Arts of Collin County director Simpson says that funding the project would cost each Frisco household about $3.70 per month; opponents say it could be more.

No matter what voters decide Saturday, Simpson is hopeful that building the center is still possible.

SIMPSON: “A Plan B could be the three cities sitting down and saying, OK, is there anyway that Allen and Plano can move ahead with just two cities? But that will require, obviously, somebody replacing either another city, private funds, a major donation or something replacing the $16.4 million that Frisco is currently committed to.”