The following content is featured in the Dallas – Ft. Worth Metroplex Spring 2016 edition of The Who’s Who in Building & Construction.
A Star Shines Bright Deep in the Heart of Texas
The new Dallas Cowboys NFL team headquarters and training facility complex will be a bright star shining in Frisco, Texas. The indoor stadium will be surrounded by retail, restaurants, housing and a luxury hotel. The overall complex has been appropriately named “The Star” with the 12,000-seat Ford Center stadium as a premiere feature. The stadium’s first game will honor a never-before-seen relationship between professional and high school athletics, where the schools of Frisco and the Dallas Cowboys will share in its use. It will open on August 27 of this year with its first high school football game. It is such a big deal that ESPN will be there to film it.
Much has been written about the building and construction details of the complex. It is the exact opposite when it comes to some of the people who are most closely associated with the project; but they are very important.
Joe Hickman, Vice President of Blue Star Investments and General Manager of Blue Star Land Company (the real estate and land development arm of Jerry Jones’ empire), is one of the people who was there from the very beginning—before any construction, architecture or engineering companies were even considered for the job. Hickman grew up on a farm in south Arkansas in a small town called Eldorado, where his family was in the timber business. His relationship with the Jones family began when he attended the University of Arkansas with Stephen Jones. Moving to Dallas was not something Hickman had ever imagined. His sister beat him to it when she married Stephen Jones.
After working with the Jones’ banking operation for a while, Hickman moved to Texas and started on their land acquisitions and development projects in the early 90s. It is a business he learned from the ground up. Fast forward to early 2013. When asked what was one of the most fascinating aspects about The Star, Hickman said: “I think just how fast it has moved (from conception to development) and how fast it came together working with the City of Frisco and the Jones family. Everybody was on the same page to move forward on a project of this size.” Mind boggling is what you could really call it. From start to finish, this project has been three years in the making. Meetings began in February 2013, and a formal announcement was made in August of that year. Hickman credits the quality of the process and progress to good city leadership.
“Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be sitting in meetings with the Jones family and working through schedule and budget issues as a team.” – Nicholas Link, Project Director at Manhattan Construction Company
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Long before construction began on The Star, there had to be an initial visual design. Sean O’Brien brings a family aspect to the project from a standpoint of being a principal in a family-owned business, O’Brien Architects. As Vice President and Director of Design, he worked alongside his father and CEO, Jack O’Brien, in master planning and determining how everything would fit together into the block for retail and entertainment. “When you’re working with the largest, most well-known sports franchise in the world, you figure out how to take things to the next level and make the best better,” says O’Brien.
The O’Brien team took great care to carefully plan and curate a mix of complementary uses and tenants. “This development is truly experiential and has created a follow-the-leader effect among other professional sports teams,” adds O’Brien. The most satisfying aspect for him was finding out that the Jones family had an excellent eye for design. “I loved their investment as a family and their level of attention to even the smallest details—from how high-level architecture works together with wayfinding graphics, to the blends of color chosen for the paving,” shares O’Brien.
“When you’re working with the largest, most well-known sports franchise in the world, you figure out how to take things to the next level and make the best better.” – Sean O’Brien, Vice President and Director of Design at O’Brien Architects
Born and raised in Irving, Texas, O’Brien, like many other kids he knew, grew up a fan of the Cowboys and even went to the games. He holds a master’s degree in architecture from Texas Tech University and has also taught college-level architecture classes. O’Brien couldn’t ask for anything better than collaborating with the Jones family on a game-changing project like The Star. He says, “The experience provided a rare dynamic between architect and client.”
LIVING THE DREAM
Last, but not least, Nicholas Link is another behind-the-scenes major player. He is a Frisco resident who works for Manhattan Construction Company in Dallas, the general contractor, and as the project director for The Star. That means he oversees construction of the Ford Center, the Cowboys headquarters, the Omni hotel, the garages and the retail buildings. His primary focus is on the Event Center and the headquarters as liaison to the City of Frisco and the Dallas Cowboys; but he also oversees the Event Center and headquarters project teams, the budget, the schedule, the quality and the safety. Link is a Texas A&M graduate who comes from a family of small-town Texas builders, including his father and grandfather. It was pretty easy for him to follow his family tradition and build on it.
As a lifelong Cowboys fan who grew up watching their games with his grandfather, Link noted that, “never in a million years would I have thought that I would be sitting in meetings with the Jones family and working through schedule and budget issues as a team.”
One of the things that motivates him—and what he loves the most about working on The Star—is satisfying the client. “Especially when you can work on a job like the Event Center where not only the Cowboys are involved, but high school football players. These kids get to utilize this facility, too! It’s pretty heartwarming and incredible,” says Link. When he conducts coaches tours of the facility and sees how their faces light up, he knows it’s a small taste of what they will get in the near future.
The biggest challenge that both Hickman and Link agree on is that there was more rain than Mother Nature should have allowed in 2015. There were a total of 45 rain events that were complete lost-work days. Because there was a hard-end date constantly looming, there was no time for weather-related delays. Superintendents stepped in and reworked schedules and temporary roads were built that helped deliver concrete—sometimes the same day the rain would stop. Link has no doubt that they’re going to make their deadline. “I have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to finish this thing strong,” he says.