Steve Brown | Dallas News

Back in the 1990s when DART built the first leg of its North Texas rail system, developers were late to catch the train.

It took several years before commercial real estate investors and builders figured out what the transit system would mean for the Dallas area real estate market.

“At that time we didn’t have a good grasp on what transit oriented development was and what it meant,” DART president and executive director Gary Thomas said in an interview.

The $1.5 billion CityLine development in Richardson is the largest transit oriented development in the works in North Texas. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Real estate developers have certainly caught on since then.

The folks at DART and the University of North Texas just completed a study of the impact of the commuter rail system on the Dallas-area real estate market.

Since the first transit-oriented project – Mockingbird Station – was announced in 1997, the private sector has spent more than $1.5 billion on real estate developments adjoining DART’s rail stations.

The bulk of that – more than $1.1 billion in property value – has been for apartments and retail construction near the transit stops.

“If we look at what has been planned and under construction within these areas, that’s another $3.8 billion of development activity,” said Terry Clower, director of UNT’s Center for Economic Development and Research, who worked on the study for DART.

The biggest of those is developer KDC’s huge Richardson CityLine project which includes a regional campus for State Farm Insurance, shops, apartments and hotel rooms. The total value of just that one deal is about $1.5 billion.

“In terms of sheer percentages the State Farm project is the large one on the board right now,” Clower said.

DART’s real estate development study doesn’t even include huge public-sector projects located next door to the rail stations, including the Parkland Hospital and the Dallas Police Headquarters in the Cedars district.

And DART doesn’t count projects downtown at all for its figures, only developments outside the central business district.

“There is a lot of that happening in and around the stations,” Thomas said. “As the economy continues to improve we are seeing this really take off.”