RICHLAND HILLS -- Right now, Richland Hills Station isn't much to look it.
The popular Trinity Railway Express stop is little more than a park-and-ride lot, surrounded by a 1960s industrial zone and acres of drought-cracked vacant land.
But after years of unmet potential, the area may finally be ripe for development.
"In bad weather, this is not a very pleasant station to sit at. It can be very cold, or very hot," said Fort Worth artist Tom Kellie, who often rides the train to meet with friends and paint. "Some little restaurant or coffee shop would be good."
Richland Hills and Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials are taking what they say are initial steps toward a long-term goal of converting Richland Hills Station into a retail destination -- and perhaps a mixed-use, walkable neighborhood.
Last week, a $2 million expansion of the station began. The work, most of which is covered by a federal transit grant, includes adding more than 100 parking spaces, bringing the total spots to about 480, and realigning Burns Street about 200 feet to the southeast. That work is expected to take about a year.
A crucial step
The relocation of Burns Street, which serves as the station entrance, is considered crucial. It will create a pocket of undeveloped land within the station footprint, in an area that city and T officials believe will be ideal for shops and small eateries that would cater to pedestrians -- namely the train riders.
Surrounding landowners say they're ready to cooperate with city and T officials and market the land near Texas 121 and Handley Ederville Road to developers.
"We'll start marketing it in six to eight months, and we'll just have to see who bites," said Chris Baker, whose family owns about a third of the 100 acres within walking distance of the station. "It's hard to imagine, but we think at least the warehouses close to Handley Ederville may potentially be torn down and built into some kind of high-rises or residential living, with maybe a little retail around them."
Several steps remain for the city, possibly including the creation of some kind of special tax district to capture future property taxes in the area and help offset development costs, said Matt Shaffstall, Richland Hills' economic development specialist.
The key first step, he said, is getting the road and parking area expanded, landscaped and ready for the first phase of retail within a year or so.
Confidence to develop
It's a step that was made possible by a referendum last year in which Richland Hills voters overwhelmingly opted to remain members of the T and continue contributing a half-cent sales tax to it. The election gave city officials the confidence they needed to develop the station aggressively, Mayor David Ragan said.
Trinity Railway riders -- about 700 people board trains there each weekday -- say they can't wait for some shopping options in the area.
Kevin Wright, who lives in the Riverside area of Fort Worth and rode the train last week to Dallas, said the area could use "a Subway, a Cheddar's, some restaurants. They probably need some more convenience stores, service stations, maybe little clothing stores."
Crystal Walls, who lives in far north Fort Worth and rides the train to culinary classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas, said she'd be thrilled if she could buy "something juice-wise, liquid, because they don't sell drinks on the train."
"I'm always hungry when I get off the train," she said, "even though I come from a cooking school."
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796