Residents advocate for funding larger facility in growing city

Though Tammy Meinershagen's daughter lives in Frisco and participates in a Frisco theater group, she has never performed in the city. Instead, the theater group performs in Lewisville because there is not a facility large enough for the group's performances in Frisco, Meinershagen said. She said her family buys dinner in Lewisville every time they drive there for rehearsals and performances.

"That's a lot of retail and restaurant sales leaving Frisco," Meinershagen said. "The arts can be an economic driver that fuels the local economy, and we're not doing that. We're fueling other cities' economies."

Meinershagen is a member of the Frisco Citizen Bond Committee, which develops project proposals for the Frisco City Council to consider for a possible May bond election. In December Meinershagen proposed to the committee allocating $20 million in bonds for a larger performing arts center.

The bond committee has not yet made its final recommendations to the City Council, which will ultimately decide what bond projects make it on the ballot. An arts center is one project of many—including roads, library facilities and city office space—the committee is discussing.

Frisco residents have voted on bonds for an arts center in the past. Frisco voters approved $19 million in bonds in 2002 to construct a regional arts center in partnership with Allen and Plano. But in 2011, Frisco voters revoked the remaining $16 million for the project following the economic downturn, according to court documents. The project dissolved December 2014.

Following the dissolution, Meinershagen proposed a bond project for a center in Frisco rather than a regional facility. A political action committee also formed in December to advocate for a Frisco facility.

Meinershagen said she hopes enough time has passed between the 2011 election and the 2015 election for voters to see the potential benefits of a new facility.

Frisco's current facility

The Black Box Theater, Frisco's only performing arts facility, can seat 120 people. Some other surrounding cities' facilities can seat more than 1,000 people.

Gary Carley, Frisco Community Development Corp. president, said the CDC originally intended the Frisco Discovery Center, which houses the Black Box Theater, to be "an incubator" for organizations to grow. As the organizations grew, Carley said the plan was for the CDC and the organizations to explore other space options, including either expanding in the center or moving into a larger venue.

The Frisco Association for the Arts is one organization currently operating out of the center and operates the Black Box Theater. The theater is in such high demand that it has been booked for every weekend through June this year, said Sharon Roland, Frisco Arts executive director.

An arts center's potential impact

Sara Akers, Plano Children's Theatre executive director and founder, said a family with a child in a play will make an average of about 34 trips to a theater, including rehearsals and performances.

"For every performance, almost everyone goes out to eat either before or after," Akers said. "It can generate a good amount of income for both local businesses and that event."

Meinershagen said Frisco also misses out on the rental revenue from arts organizations. For instance, Frisco Youth Theater moved a production from the Black Box Theater to Plano Children's Theatre's main stage last November because tickets sold out in 24 hours.

Roland said some organizations that used to rent the Black Box Theater have grown and moved to other venues.

"It has a negative impact because we're not able to host groups that need the larger space," she said. "It limits us in what we can do."

A facility 'for Frisco, by Frisco'

The bond committee will make its final recommendations to the City Council on Jan. 30. Each proposal, if approved by the council, would be its own proposition.

If voters approve a bond for an arts center, the city could use leftover money earmarked for a cultural arts and science center from the previous bond election or form a private-public partnership to help fund the project, Meinershagen said.

Meinershagen has pushed the idea that a new arts facility will be "for Frisco, by Frisco." Without a new facility, the Frisco arts community will not be able to sustain itself, she said.

"You can't have a great city without thriving arts and culture," she said. "If Frisco wants to be a destination city, and we want to be a great, sustainable city, we have to have thriving arts and culture."