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Ground Broken For Newest StarCenter

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

It may have been a long time coming, but Friday afternoon, the official ground-breaking ceremony took place at the site of the newest addition to the stable of Dr Pepper StarCenter facilities, at Craig Ranch in McKinney.

The ceremony itself was postponed just a week from the previous Friday, when inclement weather forced the change in plans, but everyone was excited to see it happen at all, particularly after the project had been shelved for a while and was almost permanently quashed.

With all of the principles that helped bring the project to fruition on hand and brandishing special hockey stick shovels, it marked an important moment for the Craig Ranch development, the city of McKinney and the Dallas Stars.

“This is a great day for us, we’re excited about being here,” said Randy Locey, Executive Vice President, Business Operations, of the Dallas Stars. “This is our ninth facility, they will be sheets number 16 and 17 of our portfolio of facilities. It allows us again to continue our growth in the hockey market and continue our brand in a non-traditional hockey area. It’s exciting for us.” 

“The city is very excited about this,” echoed Bill Campbell of the McKinney Community Development Corporation. “It’s going to give us an opportunity for our adults and our youth to be involved in a really top-notch facility, to be involved with a great group like the Dallas Stars and we’re just tickled about the fact that our citizens are going to have what we’re going to consider a world-class facility right in their backyard.” 

The two-sheet ice rink complex is scheduled to open next September and will become the headquarters for the McKinney High School hockey club as well as the Aces travel hockey association - and players from each group were also in attendance, wearing their jerseys and scoping out the patch of dirt that will become their new home next season. 

Its location at the corner of Alma Road and Collin McKinney Parkway, just north of route 121, is at the heart of Craig Ranch, and in very close proximity to several other elite-level athletic facilities, such as the PGA Tour-caliber TPC Golf Course at Craig Ranch, the Dr. Kenneth Cooper Aerobics Center and the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center.

“We’re thrilled at Craig Ranch and also for the city of McKinney,” said David Craig, owner and mastermind behind the Craig Ranch community. “It’s unprecedented. This is a quality of life venue that the residents of Craig Ranch and McKinney and the region will have at their disposal, so this is really special. It has taken our relationship with the Stars to a whole new level. We were partners before and this just solidifies our partnership with such a class act organization as the Dallas Stars.” 

Also, as part of the complex deal, Dr Pepper continues its role as primary sponsor of the facility and maintains the naming rights.

“Dr Pepper is very proud of our partnership with the Dallas Stars,” said Chris Barnes of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. “It dates back over 16 years, from almost the moment the Stars got off the plane from Minnesota, and over the years, the Dr Pepper StarCenters have been a central part of that relationship. These facilities have contributed so much, not only to cultivating and growing, sustaining local interest in hockey and skating, but also providing state-of-the-art recreational outlets for local youth, who need quality venues like these more than ever. 

“We are very thrilled to be a part of the Craig Ranch development in such a meaningful way. This is a real growth-driver for McKinney and for the surrounding area’s business. Based just down the road in Plano, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has a good number of employees that live and reside and come to this area, and we’re all very thrilled to be a part of it.” 

The construction of this rink complex continues the Stars’ aggressive push to foster rapid growth of the sport in an area that had just one full-time hockey rink in operation when the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993. 

“This project for us is pretty significant,” Locey noted, “because I look back at 1993 when the Dallas Stars moved here from Minnesota, we had probably 250 youth and adults in organized hockey. From 1993 to ’99, they scratched and clawed to build and grow the game of hockey in what was definitely a non-traditional market. Then, about in 1999, we started an aggressive expansion plan and we started building buildings around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In 1999, we started the first one out in Euless and we really haven’t looked back since. So this being our ninth facility, sheets 16 and 17, is pretty significant. We now have in the neighborhood of over 8000 youth and adults playing organized hockey in our facilities alone, so we have definitely grown the sport, that’s for sure.”

Locey also made sure to point out that these two ice sheets will serve more than just the hockey community.

“Our business is not just about hockey,” he said. “We have figure skating as another integral part of our business. We have two figure skating clubs in our facilities, if you took the club membership of both of those together, would put it somewhere in the top five in the country as far as number of kids involved in figure skating. So we really have built our base in a lot of different aspects of what we are doing.”

The city of McKinney will certainly benefit from having a top-notch facility and, unusually, as part of the arrangement, local residents will have first dibs on ice time.

“This is a true partnership and we’ve got a great agreement,” stated Frank Ragan, City Manager of McKinney. “We have priority registration for all of the leagues, all of the classes, we’ve got a three-day advance sign-up to make sure that McKinney residents get first tabs on the ice space. That’s unheard of in these type of arrangements. We have additional ice time, we have free ice time, we have guaranteed public ice time, both for hockey and ice skating. We have 25 scholarships that are being offered to our disadvantaged youth.  These types of agreements or these types of real partnership efforts are unprecedented. They have upped the architectural standards, they’ve improved the design, I think it’s more user-friendly, it’s certainly more energy efficient than a lot of facilities.”

But the project almost never happened, after talks stalled and projected costs soared over budget. For a while, it seemed like it wouldn’t happen, but after a lot of work by a lot of people, they eventually made it work in the end. 

“This project was dead, it really was,” Ragan said. “We decided to put in on the back shelf.  These numbers are not exact, but we were about $1.8 million over budget, we pretty much shelved it for a year. We thought our prices would go down with the slump in the economy, that part was right. We did take advantage of some commodity decreases and when the labor pool gets a little anxious about job opportunities, things always line up in your favor and prices get a little better, but the truth of it is, the Dallas Stars stepped in. They bridged a big gap in terms of funding and agreed to additional lease costs. Mr. Craig agreed to naming rights for this facility, we were able to bring this project in at the original budget, in terms of the city’s contribution. We didn’t put one extra penny into it. 

“So I give a lot of credit to Mr. Craig and the Stars organization, and the contractors, Boka Powell and Jackson Architectural and all our folks that were involved. You don’t see that kind of real partnership happen very often.” 

“This has been a long time in the making, it had a lot of work to get to this point,” Locey added. “We kept beating away at it and we finally got to the point where we could say, ‘Okay, we can pull the trigger,’ and we got this thing going. We have a small window get this built, to get us in here by the end of September - we’re doing it with two key partners. Balfour Beatty has built basically all the buildings that we’ve done in the Metroplex and if I didn’t have them, would I have said we could do this in an eight-month time span? I don’t know that I could have done that. Along with Boka Powell, we had them come to the table as the architect, and everybody’s rolled their sleeves up and we’re aggressively going at it, and we’re very comfortable that we’re going to be in here by the end of September, if not sooner. We’re moving ground, we’ve started the process already.”

And when it’s finally completed, most residents of McKinney and the surrounding areas that benefit from this latest Dr Pepper StarCenter will know nothing of the drama behind the scenes that took place before the facility could actually become a reality. They’ll just be enjoying another top-notch ice rink facility.

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