LIVE LONG IN PROSPER: Joe Hickman, Jerry Jones, and Stephen Jones (left to right) see dollar signs in Far, Far North Dallas. photography by Dave Shafer

Fields of Fortune

Jerry Jones- yes, that Jerry Jones- has big plans for Prosper, Texas. He and his Blue Star Land real estate firm want the tiny town to be its signature development. Only the entire country is watching.

The corner of Preston Road and U.S. 380 in Prosper is just another rural crossroads in Texas, with little in sight but gently rolling, wooded hills and dusty fields whipped by dry spring winds. The intersection is eight miles due north from the frenetic Frisco intersection at State Highway 121, and “quiet” doesn’t do this area justice. Preston Road—that aorta of retail development in Dallas—is only a two-lane thoroughfare here. Even the cattle seem lackadaisical. All that’s missing is a few tumbleweeds and a distant coyote call.

But within a decade, this sleepy little corner of Far, Far North Dallas may be the cornerstone of a massive $500 million-plus, 2.5 million-square-foot master-planned development: The Gates of Prosper. What’s proposed is a sophisticated mixed-use town center that will serve as the signature for Blue Star Land L.P., and permanently alter the boundaries of what we call the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

If that seems too grandiose, you need to know the players. Blue Star is, admittedly, a relatively small real estate firm owned by a man best known for his oil ventures. But that man also owns a little sports club that you may have heard about. That’s right. You know him as the owner of your Dallas Cowboys. But here in Prosper, Jerry Jones, land prospector and real estate baron, isn’t on the sidelines. He’s in the red zone and looking for a huge score.

“This is one of the most exciting areas regionally and nationally in terms of growth,” Jones says. Dressed in a golf shirt and slacks, the man both loved and hated by football fans is taking a short break between NFL draft meetings. On one side of his spacious office there are rows of bookshelves with enough Cowboys memorabilia to make an eBay millionaire of the man, if he weren’t already set. He switches between football talk and real estate without a pause. “We live in a great area of the country that’s growing of its own inertia and from people moving here from all over. I think we can leverage the excitement we have into the project to create something that serves as an example to the whole country.”

Blue Star Land, the real estate arm of Jerry Jones’ financial empire, hasn’t been a piker in the commercial real estate field. Blue Star’s past projects include Starwood in Frisco, a 550-acre master-planned residential community of 900-plus families offering homes priced from $300,000 to more than $5 million. The company also developed StarCreek in Allen, a 529-acre residential and commercial development located at State Highway 121 and Watters Road. On the apartment side, Blue Star’s jewel is Riata in Austin, an upscale 215-acre multifamily residential community with 2,043 units.

But far and away, The Gates of Prosper is Blue Star’s most far-reaching vision. And Jones is bringing his A-game to the task.

“They key thing we sell Prosper on is, we can’t afford for it not to work,” Jones says. “Because of the visibility of the Dallas Cowboys and our reputation as winners, if we don’t do it right we’ll be reading about it in USA Today. We’re in this for the very long haul. And because of the amount of acreage we have, we can do it right in terms of how we master-plan it. We’re well-capitalized and we have good ideas. This is going to be something everyone looks to.”

Not that Prosper isn’t ripe and ready for the picking. At first blush, the tiny town is mostly fields and small neighborhoods winding around a few equestrian farms. But a closer look at the fundamentals shows that Blue Star’s push north is a well-supported offensive strategy. The northward progression of Preston Road has always been a harbinger of retail development, just as the same push by the Dallas North Tollway has heralded new office demand. That which created Frisco’s remarkable growth and Plano’s before it is now knocking on Prosper’s door.

Jones’ ground game began more than a decade ago, when he started buying up raw land in and around Prosper, a farm and railroad town the name of which was picked on a moment’s notice back in 1902. Now, in Jones’ view, it’s getting close to kick-off time. His company is coy with the exact numbers, but they admit the land has more than doubled in value since Jones’ initial investment. Which may be an understatement. Local brokers say that in 1995, raw land along Preston Road at 380 was going for $5,000-$6,000 an acre. Off Preston Road it was running $3,500-$4,000, while west of the railroad tracks it was as low as $2,000 per acre. Today, $55,000 per acre is par for the course, and along Preston itself, commercial land can’t be had for less than $100,000 per acre.

“I have a reputation as a risk-taker, but I don’t see this investment as a gamble,” Jones says. “In fact, the growth is faster than I anticipated. I’m sold on the area.”

As a sign of his faith, Jones acquired the land with equity he could park over the long-term. The downside of buying raw land is it ties up capital in something that produces no income. But Blue Star wanted to be able to hold onto the land regardless of the ups and downs of the market cycle. “Our investment is our equity in this project,” Jones says.

To the south, Frisco is already getting crowded—the city is at nearly 87,000 residents, and home prices are climbing. What was once a suburban escape from the metro epicenters to the south has crossed that threshold of critical mass, becoming an epicenter itself. Residential growth to the west in The Colony and to the north in Celina and even over in Little Elm are driving demand for the kinds of amenities, services, and office space The Gates of Prosper promises.

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