The deafening sound of hundreds of children running and laughing inside of KidZania mirrors the hustle and bustle throughout Stonebriar Centre shops, such as the new Amazon 4-star store. The noise is a sign that momentum at Frisco’s first mall is not slowing down.

The mall has been touted as Frisco’s economic engine for the past two decades, prompting city leaders to find ways to keep the engine running. The additions of the children’s educational destination KidZania this year and the Hyatt Regency next year are expected to strengthen the popular shopping center.

“The mall’s almost 20 years old, and the fact that we keep it fresh—keep it reinvigorated—with new and innovative and different development within the mall area, I think, is very important,” said Ron Patterson, Frisco Economic Development Corp. president.

Despite the closure of some major retailers in the past year, including Sears and the Apple Store, Stonebriar Centre still draws about 20 million people annually and maintains a 95%-plus occupancy rate, mall general manager Randy Barnett said. The mall’s ability to adapt to the ever-changing shopper has led to its success, he said.

City and mall leaders are still looking for ways to continually reinvest in Stonebriar Centre so it can thrive for another 20 years.

The mall’s significance

Since opening in August 2000, Stonebriar Centre has been a large source of property and sales tax revenue for the city.

The state does not publish sales tax collections from specific stores. However, the 2019 assessed property value of the mall, including the businesses not attached to the main structure, totals more than $400 million.

The mall also led to the creation of the city’s first tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ. A local government can use a TIRZ to capture any growth in property tax value and put the revenue generated from that value into a separate fund. Taxes generated from the captured value are restricted to funding improvements within the TIRZ area, such as developments near the mall.•Frisco’s first TIRZ has helped fund projects, such as Dr Pepper Ballpark, Toyota Stadium and the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco. The property for the Professional Golfers’ Association headquarters was added to the TIRZ boundaries in November. Projects to be funded with TIRZ money in that area have yet to be announced.

The TIRZ today is estimated to be valued at more than $1.7 billion, according to the city.

Patterson said Stonebriar’s economic force has been an important tool, benefiting businesses and residents alike.

“It has been a major catalyst since it opened its doors, and it still is,” he said.

Changing mall model

Traditionally, malls have focused strictly on retail tenants, Frisco Director of Development Services John Lettelleir said. Malls that are remaining relevant today, however, have broadened their scopes, he said.

“They’re becoming more some type of cultural center—more than just shopping,” Lettelleir said. “What you’re seeing with Stonebriar mall, I think, they’re remaining relevant by reinventing themselves.”

One strategy for keeping the mall fresh is to find tenants that bring something different to the table, Barnett said.

•“We want to continue to focus on the experience, and that includes sit-down restaurants and entertainment-type tenants,” he said. “The key is having those tenants that aren’t your traditional retailers.”

Adding a hotel and KidZania—the first U.S. location for the global brand—is expected to draw thousands of additional visitors every year, Barnett said.

The child-sized city, KidZania, is a curriculum-based, interactive experience designed for children. The 85,000-square-foot facility held a grand opening Nov. 23.

Next to KidZania, Sam Moon Group is building the 303-room Hyatt Regency Frisco attached to the mall that is expected to open by late spring 2020. It includes a 54,585-square-foot conference center with a grand ballroom, a junior ballroom and breakout spaces. A 3,000-square-foot space will also be dedicated to a city microlibrary.

Daniel Moon, Sam Moon Group vice president and general counsel, said his company chose Stonebriar because the mall’s owner, Brookfield Properties, is committed to reinvesting in the center.

“These days, retailers are shrinking their number of locations, and they’re only keeping stores in the most dense areas,” Moon said. “In the Dallas area, out of all the submarkets, Frisco has the No. 1 mall ... and it’s not an accident. It’s by design. The city and the mall owners keep focusing on bringing in the best tenant mix.”

Patterson said the hotel and KidZania will create a new synergy that will attract visitors who may not have been to Stonebriar before.

“Someone could come on a business trip, and they may even bring family with them,” he said. “They can stay [at the hotel]; they can literally walk into the mall; they can walk over to KidZania and never get in a car. That’s a big deal to be able to have all of those experiences and all very walkable.”

The mall has not abandoned retail tenants but is attracting stores unique to the area. For example, an Amazon 4-star store, one of only seven currently in the U.S., opened in November.

The foot traffic at the mall also helps KidZania, Chief Marketing Officer Suzie Tsai said.

“As a partner and as a tenant, [the mall management has] been great,” she said. “They’ve given us a ton of marketing support. ... They barely have any vacant spaces inside, so that’s good to see.”

Future plans

KidZania and the Hyatt Regency are not the last major additions for the mall. Barnett said there is an ongoing discussion about how to continue to reimagine the shopping center.

The city also wants the area around the mall to be more walkable, Lettelleir said. He said there is no easy way for someone without a car to get from one of the businesses on the perimeter of the property, such as iFly Indoor Skydiving, to the mall.

Traditional malls are not built with walkability in mind, Lettelleir said. But the city is taking a look at how to reconfigure the area, he said.

“We hired a consultant about three years ago to look at walkability in the Stonebriar area, and it’s a long-term process to make it walkable,” Lettelleir said. “The challenge is going from the perimeter of the site to the mall itself. But I think, eventually, it will happen.”

The interior of the mall could be redeveloped as well. The former Sears space, for example, could be redesigned for another use, such as a mixed-use development, Barnett said. Brookfield Properties is considering a number of options and could announce plans for the space early next year, he said.

“We need to continue to reinvest in our property,” he said. “We need to stay ahead of trends and attract those stores that make us unique. You have to change and evolve.”