FRISCO, Texas -- The sounds of construction seemingly never stop at the site of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' latest revolutionary project. The Ford Center at The Star, scheduled to open this summer in this suburb 25 miles north of downtown Dallas, is changing the paradigm for NFL training facilities.
The Cowboys will be moving from Valley Ranch, their home since 1985, to a modern complex that's much more than just a team headquarters and place to practice.
The Star will be home to the Cowboys' offices, two outdoor practice fields and a 12,000-seat indoor stadium that will be shared with the Frisco Independent School District. It will include retail shopping and an upscale 16-story Omni hotel with a convention center that is expected to open in the summer of 2017.
The complex will also feature a Baylor Scott & White Health sports medicine facility and a fitness center that will house the studio of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, which means the gym will undoubtedly be crowded when the world's most famous cheer squad practices.
Then there's the exclusive Cowboys Club, which already has sold out its 800 memberships. For a one-time payment of as much as $4,500 plus a $350 monthly fee, club members will be able to watch portions of the Cowboys' practices from terrace views overlooking the facility's outdoor fields. Membership also includes access to the fitness center and a host of other benefits, including scheduled talks with players and coaches.
The complex will generate millions in revenue, and the Cowboys will get a percentage of that cash, whether it's from charging rent, partnerships like the one it has with the Omni or selling memorabilia from its pro shop. The Cowboys, who sold naming rights to their new headquarters to Ford Motor Co., will also have considerable office space to rent out in a booming community with a population that has grown from around 33,000 to over 150,000 since 2000.
In a way, it's not much different than when Jones showed his fellow NFL owners how to earn hundreds of millions more in the mid-1990s with stadium sponsorship agreements instead of relying solely on the league's deals. Or when he reset the standard for sports palaces with the opening of AT&T Stadium in 2009.
"What we've done with our stadium and this project creates a cache that also reflects in [television] rights fees and a lot of other things," Jones said. "People want to deal with successful and progressive entities. That's who they want to partner with."
Plans for the Cowboys' groundbreaking project were officially announced in August 2013, and ground was broken at the site a year later. The copycats are already popping up.
Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke spent time with the Cowboys in Oxnard, California, at the 2015 training camp to get a better conceptual understanding of what the Cowboys were going to do with The Star. Now, the Rams are planning on creating a similar concept with their training facility after they resettle in California.
The Green Bay Packers have unveiled plans for a Titletown District adjacent to Lambeau Field that will have a hotel, a 10-acre public plaza, retail shopping and many of the same types of amenities the Cowboys are planning.
The Minnesota Vikings recently purchased land in Eagan, Minnesota, that was formerly Northwest Airlines' headquarters with an eye on building a development that houses the team's corporate offices and training facility, has retail shopping and creates an economic boon for the area.
Cowboys executive vice president and chief brand officer Charlotte Jones Anderson said there also have been inquiries from other owners about how to do something similar to The Star.
"The question is, do they have the resources to do it?" said Jones Anderson, who oversees much of the project. "Can they develop the resources to do it? And can they develop the partnerships to do it? Every team is in a different situation."
How did it happen in Frisco? Depending on whom you ask, either Frisco approached the Cowboys about moving their headquarters because of an attractive parcel of land they believed would fit the club's needs or the Cowboys inquired about moving because they had outgrown Valley Ranch and relocating made more sense than refurbishing.
Jones believes one of the reasons the Cowboys became known as "America's Team" -- and maintained their popularity despite just three playoff wins over the past 20 seasons -- is because they constantly look for new and better ways to connect emotionally with fans. His goal has always been to give his team's supporters once-in-a-lifetime experiences at some level, from letting sponsors watch practices to having throngs of fans attend training camp for an up-close-and-personal view of their heroes preparing for the season.
Valley Ranch doesn't have room for spectators, so the Cowboys have been taking training camp on the road each year, either at various locations around Texas or in Oxnard, California. That routine is likely to continue -- their current agreement with Oxnard runs through 2017 -- but the Cowboys expect to hold at least a week or two of training camp at The Star, finally allowing the local fans to attend those practices without traveling.
Once the regular season starts, Frisco will become a new travel destination for out-of-area Cowboys fans, who could fly in on a Friday morning, watch a portion of practice from their room at the Omni, eat and shop for two days at the complex, attend Sunday's game and fly home on Monday.
"We've been trying to develop reasons for tourists to come to Frisco to keep the city energized and keep the sales-tax dollars and hotel-tax dollars flowing," said George Purefoy, Frisco city manager since 1987. "We've been actively looking for several years for opportunities to attract major attractions that would persuade people to stay for several days and spend money in town."
Frisco already is home to an MLS team (FC Dallas), the Texas Rangers' Double-A club (Frisco Roughriders) and the Dallas Mavericks' NBA Development League affiliate (Texas Legends). In addition, the NHL's Dallas Stars have their training facility there.
The city is investing $115 million to add the Cowboys to that list, and the team is covering the remaining costs. The training facility carries a price tag of around $250 million, although Jones said he has spent about $700 million on the overall development, a number that will continue to swell because ground has been broken on only 30 of the 90 team-owned acres.
The partnership with the Cowboys couldn't have come at a better time for the Frisco Independent School District. The growing district opened its eighth high school last year and needed a third stadium to accommodate its football teams, which will get to play at The Star on Thursday and Friday nights. Teaming up with the Cowboys on the indoor stadium allowed the city to save about $500,000 a year in operating costs and between $10 million and $15 million in capital costs.
Frisco ISD also recently agreed to a multiyear, $1.74 million deal that will make Nike the sole uniform and equipment provider for all of its schools. Nike will have a branded gear shop and a track adjacent to the fitness center at The Star.
"It joins at the hip Friday night lights and the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said of the facility. "Literally, the quarterback at Frisco High School could be visiting with Tony Romo or Jason Witten or Dez Bryant as they're walking off the practice field and he's getting ready for a ballgame."