With the maiden voyage of the long-awaited commuter rail line from downtown to the airport only about three months away, Fort Worth and other Tarrant County cities are planning and preparing to reap the benefits of this economic development windfall.
TEXRail will stretch approximately 27 miles, connecting downtown Fort Worth to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
The new rail service will amp up public transportation opportunities throughout the regions as riders can make connections to Dallas and Fort Worth via stations inside the airport.
But with nine stations in three cities – Fort Worth, North Richland Hills and Grapevine – the potential for development around the stations is enormous, according to local government and business leaders.
“We’re proud of the $336 million in transit-oriented development that is occurring because of this commuter rail line,” said Bob Baulsir, senior vice president for Trinity Metro, the transit agency that operates TEXRail. “That’s a very big deal.”
Factoring in Trinity Metro’s approximately $1 billion TEXRail budget and the $336 million in economic development, investment in the project far has been about $1.4 billion, Baulsir said.
And that’s just the beginning.
“TEXRail service is a giant step to better competitiveness for Tarrant County,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “It makes our proposals for relocating or expanding companies much stronger.
“The more transit options a community possesses, the better chance we have of making a short list and recruiting companies, Thornton said.
From a transportation standpoint alone, TEXRail will be a boon to Fort Worth’s restaurants, hotels and attractions by giving about 67 million business and leisure travelers a reliable, convenient and affordable way to get to Fort Worth from the airport, Thornton said.
“TEXRail puts us on more even footing with Dallas’ DART system for travelers who prefer mass transit to taxis,” he said.
Besides bringing more visitors to downtown Fort Worth, where they connect to city buses or a planned shuttle service to the Cultural District, the rail line will make it easier than ever for visitors to get to the Stockyards. Those arriving from the north can stop at the new Northside/Stockyards station and either walk or take a five-minute bus ride to the Stockyards.
From downtown, visitors can either take a city bus or ride the train to the Stockyards and take the short bus ride.
Buses will be available to meet every train to take passengers to the Stockyards, Baulsir said. There will be no additional cost beyond the one-way train ticket for the bus “last mile” bus ride.
In addition to other benefits, TEXRail’s intended function as commuter line is expected to have the biggest economic impact in connecting thousands of employees to job centers, including the airport, which have not been easily accessible by public transportation.
“TEXRail is estimated to save 21 minutes per day for commuters,” Thornton said, “It will take thousands of cars off the highways, which will improve our roadway safety and air quality.
“It is going to positively impact our quality of place and provide an economic boost to many cities and communities in the Fort Worth region,” he said.
Economic development projects are being planned or are already in progress around most of the stations along the commuter rail route.
Near Fort Worth’s existing T&P Station, plans are moving ahead for a $94.2 million Katy Station Lofts development. This mixed-use, multi-family development will have street-level retail and a child care facility.
This development is a joint partnership between developer RMGN, an affiliate of Matthews Southwest, Fort Worth Housing Solutions, the city and Trinity Metro. The transit agency owns the land.
The 10-story development will include rental assistance, reduced cost and full rate units to accommodate tenants with varying incomes. A parking garage will be part of the development and a hotel is proposed for the future.
In downtown Fort Worth, the arrival of TEXRail is anticipated to contribute to significant redevelopment of the area around the Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC).
“The developer of the new Hampton Inn & Suites specifically chose the site [1001 Commerce St.] to be close to the station,” Taft said.
Texas A&M University purchased parking lots nears its law school building for future expansion. Redevelopment of the Tarrant County Convention Center and construction of a large convention hotel will also reshape the southern end of downtown and benefit from the close proximity to the rail station, Taft said.
Planning for development around the Northside/Stockyards station at Northeast 28th and Decatur streets is just beginning to take shape. The city is applying for assistance from the Urban Land Institute of North Texas to help guide a development strategy and establish zoning for the area, according to Fort Worth City Councilman Carlos Flores, whose district includes the Stockyards and Northside area.
With significant development and redevelopment underway in the Stockyards, the city’s strategy is a comprehensive approach to connect the whole area around the Stockyards and the new rail station.
“We see this as a synergetic effort,” Flores said. “We want to have complimentary development.”
Fort Worth’s fourth station, also another new station, will be in the sprawling Mercantile Center business park in the Interstate 35W/Loop 820 corridor. With about half of the center’s 1,500 acres still available for development, there is plenty of opportunity, according to Brian Randolph, president of Mercantile Partners.
“We foresee some type of mixed-used development with an office component,” Randolph said. The area around the station would also be well suited to campus-style research or academic facilities.
Growth and development has been accelerating at the 30-year Mercantile Center for the past few years, he said. “We expect it to really pick up once the train starts running.”
The TEXRail Equipment Maintenance Facility is also located at this site.
Major developments are also planned around North Richland Hills’ two rail stops and Grapevine’s station in its historic downtown.
First up in North Richland Hills will be a transit-oriented development near the Iron Horse station. This approximately $150 million project will have 896 apartment units, 145 townhomes, 21 patio homes and 25,000-square feet of commercial space, including 11,000 square feet alongside the apartment units.
New villa-style homes are planned for the Smithfield station in North Richland Hills. Development at that site planned for later than the Iron Horse station project.
Underway in Grapevine is $105 million public-private partnership project known as Grapevine Main.
The development will include a 42,000 square-foot, five-story rail station in keeping with downtown Grapevine’s vintage style. The development will also feature a 38,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, a 121-room boutique hotel, a 105-foot observation tower, shops, restaurants, meeting spaces and a 552-space parking garage.
Grapevine’s other rail station will be located on airport property north of the terminals. There has yet to be an announcement of new development there. The final station on the route will be in Terminal B in the airport.