Frisco, Texas – Renowned architectural giant Gensler has reportedly been commissioned to devise the blueprint for Universal Studios’ newest venture, a $550 million children-centric theme park destined for a prime location along the Dallas North Tollway in northwest Frisco. The details, though yet to be officially confirmed, come from trusted sources close to the project.
The proposed theme park, still awaiting an official name, is an unprecedented venture. It is set to feature a mosaic of four to five distinctive “lands” each centered on iconic characters and filmic universes birthed by Universal Studios. Prior announcements from Universal hinted at a variety of attractions ranging from thrilling rides and immersive shows to a luxury 300-room hotel, delectable eateries, retail establishments, and an assortment of other hallmark amenities found in leading amusement parks.
Despite the lingering whispers of Gensler’s involvement, official representatives have chosen to maintain an ambiguous stance. Requests for confirmation from both a Gensler spokesperson and the corporate communications team for Universal Destinations & Experiences – previously known as Universal Parks & Resorts – have been met with silence. However, multiple well-placed sources continue to point towards Gensler’s likely stewardship of the project.
The theme park is envisioned as a vibrant jewel in the grand tapestry of the Fields development. This expansive, meticulously planned project spans over 2,500 acres in Frisco, interweaving myriad facilities including the PGA of Americas headquarters, the plush Omni PGA Frisco Resort, two 18-hole PGA championship golf courses, and an array of high-end residential offerings, ranging from opulent single-family homes to luxurious apartments and condominiums.
Gensler’s involvement in the Fields development is not novel. As the world’s preeminent architecture and design firm, Gensler already holds the reins as the executive architect for the entire Fields development and specifically, for Fields West. This upscale urban enclave, spanning 180 acres at the core of the overarching Fields development, is also under Gensler’s purview.
The blueprints for Fields West paint a picture of an integrated urban habitat with approximately 400,000 square feet allocated for retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues. This coexists with a whopping 4 million square feet of office space and over 2,000 sophisticated urban residences. The development also foresees the establishment of two luxury hotels – a Ritz Carlton and an Autograph Collection by Marriott – within the Fields West precinct, with the possibility of a third addition looming on the horizon.
Gensler, which has a large office in Dallas, has extensive experience with theme parks. In January, the firm hired Disney’s former head “imagineer.”
The creative masterminds known as “Imagineers”, who are renowned for their instrumental role in designing and building Disney theme parks, attractions, resorts, and cruise ships, are on the move. Notably, Bob Weis, previously the president of Walt Disney Imagineering, is transitioning to a new professional terrain by joining Gensler as its global leader for immersive experience design.
During his tenure at Disney, Weis championed the development of over 200 significant projects that spanned the globe, from Shanghai and Tokyo to Paris. These projects encapsulated an array of Disney theme parks and resorts. Now in his new capacity at Gensler, Weis is set to pioneer unique creative experiences across an array of domains including entertainment, hospitality, retail, sports, mixed-use, cultural institutions, and workplaces. This insight was gleaned from an article published by Architectural Record.
As of now, it remains undetermined whether Weis’s creative expertise will be harnessed for the burgeoning theme park project in Frisco.
Gensler has left an indelible architectural footprint in North Texas through the completion of several high-profile and triumphant projects. These include the Legacy West mixed-use behemoth in Plano, The Star multi-use development in Frisco which has been built around the global headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, and the remarkable transformation of AT&T’s global headquarters in Dallas into the AT&T Discovery District – an immersive, mixed-use urban campus peppered with restaurants, retail outlets, and office spaces.
Further extending its architectural prowess, Gensler has delivered other remarkable landmarks in Dallas-Fort Worth such as the Toyota Music Factory in Irving, the Frisco Public Library, and the second phase of Klyde Warren Park. The latter project brought forth a new 50,000-square-foot pavilion to the popular deck park, which is elegantly perched on 1.2 acres above the existing freeway coursing through Dallas’s heart.
In March, the Frisco City Council greenlit the special use permit required for the Universal theme park slated to cover 97 acres of land at the northeast corner of Dallas North Tollway and Panther Creek Parkway. The council also ratified a development agreement between the city and Universal Studios, securing an economic incentive of $12.7 million.
To qualify for the economic incentive scheme approved by the City Council, the theme park along with its proposed 300-room hotel must become operational by June 2026, subject to additional stipulations. Universal must certify $550 million of capital expenditures on the park’s construction, and in order to access the incentive funds, the park is required to maintain an operational schedule of no fewer than 260 days annually.
Universal and the City of Frisco’s planning department have indicated potential expansion plans for the on-site hotel. The initial 300-room capacity is expected to double, reaching 600 rooms shortly after the theme park commences operations.
An economic impact analysis projects that, within its first decade, the park is slated to generate revenues of $30 million from city sales and property tax, supplemented by $16.7 million from hotel occupancy tax. Universal Studios further estimates that the park will generate “several thousand” job opportunities, from construction roles integral to the park’s creation to operational roles and leadership positions post-inauguration.
Both Universal Studios and city officials forecast that the park will attract significant footfall, estimated at around 20,000 visitors during weekends and holidays, and approximately 7,500 individuals on average weekdays.
The fresh concept introduced by Universal aims to be specifically tailored for families with young children. It promises to offer an intimate and engaging experience, designed to resonate with a younger demographic than that catered to by other Universal parks, as iterated by Universal Studios executives in recent community meetings and Planning & Zoning sessions following the park’s announcement.
This new venture promises to provide a distinct experience from Universal’s existing American theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood, differing not only in the physical scale but also in the nature of the experiences offered. It is meticulously designed to cater to its targeted demographic, families with young children. Universal officials have assured that careful landscaping and natural sound barriers will be employed within and around the park to minimize the impact of sound and light on neighboring residential areas.