It is said no one plans to fail, they just fail to plan. McKinney doesn’t seem to have that problem – not by a long shot. The city appears blessed with forward-thinking, enthusiastic planners who value preparing for growth and economic development.
And that’s a good thing, as the roughly 116 square miles called McKinney, Texas, is now the fastest growing city in nationally recognized Collin County, surpassing even Frisco.
“I think [McKinney’s] potential is almost without limits,” says Jim Wehmeier, President and CEO of the McKinney Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). “It’s an incredible place to live, and it’s got a great story to tell.”
McKinney City Manager Jason Gray calls these days “a very fun time for someone that does what I do.”
MEDC President and CEO Jim Wehmeier
To review: McKinney’s 1990 population was a mere 21,283 souls. That figure now stands at 143,223, according to the U. S. Census Bureau – and that’s 10 percent higher than two years ago. The city is widely expected to top out at over 387,000 McKinnians, say city planners.
While plans for dealing with the growth are broad and comprehensive, much focus is now centered on the city’s southern frontage along still relatively new Sam Rayburn Tollway, as well as McKinney’s Historic Downtown.
Plans along the Tollway involve attracting quality jobs and economic growth through the born-again Gateway project and the new McKinney Corporate Center at Craig Ranch.
“I think the completion of that tollway was a bigger deal for McKinney economically than anything over the past 100 years,” Wehmeier says. “I can now get to DFW Airport from my office in 22 minutes ... For corporate America, that is huge.”
Other attractive McKinney traits include:
- proximity to Collin County Regional Airport and its big-jet-capable 7,002-foot runway
- proximity to major highways
- a young, well-educated, health-minded populace
- excellent schools and hospitals
- forward-thinking leadership
- relatively low taxes, and
- yes, it’s only about 30 percent “built-out”
Craig Ranch Master Developer and partner David Craig
Even at that, Wehmeier notes that face-to-face meetings are required to compete for those top corporations nationally. “We’re selling the McKinney story to those who aren’t familiar with it,” he says. “To do that, you’ve got to travel.”
Wehmeier has made two domestic trips this year with state and local officials; one to California and one to New York and Connecticut. On those two trips, he says, McKinney made it onto four corporations’ lists of potential move sites. “And [landing] any one of those projects would make the entire year’s travel budget worth it – 10 times over.”
“The next five years are going to be a lot of fun in McKinney, Texas,” Wehmeier says. “It’s our turn. The timing is so right, and the elected leadership of the city is so good right now.”
Like Wehmeier, Gray appreciates that McKinney is not just growing, but growing with quality development. Gray says he feels everyone involved with McKinney planning and economic development are “really hitting on all cylinders.”
Corporate Center Takes Off
Groundbreaking for the 137-acre Corporate Center at Craig Ranch took place last June.
The project, set in the 2,200-acre master-planned Craig Ranch community, calls for approximately 2.5 million squarefeet of Class A corporate office space.
“We’re off to a good start,” says Craig Ranch Master Developer and partner David Craig. “Based on our timing, I think we’re going to be hitting the market exactly when we need to be.”
“I believe that the City of McKinney and Craig Ranch have a window of opportunity to capture a percentage of those [corporations] that are out there looking for a new home. We have seen a lot of interest from the West Coast. We are also seeing interest from up north, and most of that is because of tax issues, not to mention quality of life issues.”
“If not for the vision and desire of City Council to create additional commercial tax-base in the City of McKinney, this would not be possible,” Craig says. “Without the participation, financially, from the [MEDC], this also would not be possible.”
McKinney City Manager Jason Gray
Gray calls it “another tool in [McKinney’s] tool box” to have a ready-made Corporate Center with the amenities Craig Ranch has to offer. Those include, to name a few: the world-class TPC Craig Ranch golf course, baseball and girls fast-pitch softball venues, ice skating and hockey at the Dr Pepper Star Center, regulation-sized beach volleyball courts, FIFA-regulation soccer fields, a regional hike and bike trail, the Cooper Aerobics Center and the Michael Johnson Performance Center.
The City of McKinney contributed $5 million toward infrastructure upgrades to this public/private partnership, with Craig Ranch contributing an additional $3 million. Improvements include the new Grand Ranch Parkway, which creates a major entry portal from the Sam Rayburn Tollway, the extension of Henneman Way, significant monument signage on the Tollway, and a lake feature with restaurant pad sites overlooking the lake.
Gateway Is Back
The Gateway development began in 2008 as an upgrade to McKinney’s southern entry on Highway 75. But when bankruptcy quickly halted construction on the new hotel and convention center, City leaders patiently considered all options.
“It took a lot of creativity from the City Council’s perspective,” Gray says, “as well as from the development community’s perspective, to look at it and say, ‘OK, what are the real available solutions?’”
After much study, a public/private partnership with Beck Development and Champ Hospitality was approved in June of 2012, calling for use of the existing structure. Gray expects construction to resume by the end of October. The $38 million plan offers McKinney a chance to recover its investment over time, Gray says. “I think it makes good sense.”
Emerson Process Management also boosted Gateway’s revival by agreeing to build a new global headquarters for its Regulator Technologies division there in 2011. Groundbreaking for the $25 million project was held in July of 2012 and the 128,000-square-foot, three-story structure was completed last month.
Regulator Technologies has been in McKinney for over 50 years. “We wanted to make sure to keep their presence here,” Gray says. “It was a huge deal for us. And luckily, it was a huge deal for Emerson too.”
Says Wehmeier, “They’re going to have a beautiful headquarters building. But really what’s going to kick it off is getting that hotel and conference center re-energized and kicked off. ... Once that construction really begins in earnest, it’s going to be a snowball effect.”
Downtown Proposals Advancing
“McKinney would not be ranked as highly as it is in [Money Magazine’s] Best Places to Live without downtown,” Wehmeier says.
As part of continuing efforts to further enhance its downtown jewel, McKinney last year issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) which sought input from private developers for 10 City-owned properties just off the downtown square. These sites were deemed under-utilized and of a size and location that might be attractive to developers.
As of early August, the process had narrowed to two developers with whom the City was having “broad discussions.” “Now we’re starting to whittle that down,” Gray says, “get more detailed and better understand ... how they might offer to expand the vibrancy of downtown.”
The primary site, approximately 376,000 square feet southeast of the square along Highway 5, is near four smaller sites under consideration. The remaining five tracts are northeast of the square, near the City library. Gray says the process is flexible, with both commercial and residential uses under consideration.
So bring on that growth – economic, population and otherwise. McKinney is up to the task.
“I like our team a lot,” Wehmeier says. “McKinney has what you would like to call ‘championship potential.’”
About the author: Rick Atkinson is a McKinney-based freelance writer and cartoonist. He and wife Debbie added to the city’s population boom in 2004, migrating from Sherman.