Richardson construction turns one of Dallas first suburbs into a new boomtown

By Steve Brown
Real Estate Editor | Dallas Morning News 

Richardson’s construction boom belies the city’s position as one of Dallas’ first-ring suburbs.


Development is spreading out into Collin and Denton counties and north of Fort Worth, but Richardson isn’t getting left behind.


With the new $1.5 billion CityLine complex and a $500 million project just announced next door, Richardson is one of the largest commercial real estate centers in the country.


Surrounding cities are getting passed by in the building binge. So how did this one-time farming community win the urban growth game?


Planners and city officials say it’s a combination of location, leadership and luck.


“We have a great location — the first suburb north of Dallas,” said longtime Richardson resident and architect Rick Ferrara. “We had a great school system in the formative years, and we still do.


“And we have the good fortune of consistent city leadership with a good vision for many years.”


Richardson is at the intersection of two of the region’s major roadways — Central Expressway and Bush Turnpike — and is served by DART’s commuter rail line.


“Certainly the toll road bordering the north side of the city made it very easy for both business and citizens to get to Richardson,” said Ferrara, who works with international architect Gensler.


It’s no coincidence that when State Farm Insurance decided it would build a regional campus for 8,000 employees, it found a spot next to the DART station at Central and Bush.


The surrounding 186-acre CityLine development being built by KDC will be one of the largest in North Texas.


Next door, a second, 54-acre project just starting will add even more office space, apartments, hotel rooms and retail.


“When we first started planning for all this, we thought it would take 20 years,” said Jim Wills, a partner in the latest development next to CityLine. “No one thought this would all happen so fast.”


Railroad town

Richardson was founded in the 1870s when the railroads first pushed into North Texas. But by the turn of the century, there were less than a thousand folks living in the little town about a dozen miles north of Dallas.


It wasn’t until the growth spurt after World War II that Richardson caught fire with home construction and development.


In the 1950s, the electronics industry set up shop, creating jobs.


“You have a foundation here that extends back 50-plus years — all the way back to the Collins Radio days — with a business-oriented town,” said Bill Sproull, president of the Richardson Economic Development Partnership.


By the 1990s, Richardson had become one of the country’s high-tech and telecommunications capitals. In 1992, the city trademarked the name Telecom Corridor to identify the booming business district along Central.


Since the dot-com bubble burst and the telecom crash in early 2000, insurance and financial services firms — not high-tech companies — have fueled Richardson’s new wave of growth.


Insurance Corridor

“We have intentionally diversified who we are going after,” Sproull said. “We wanted to stay true to our technology roots, but we knew we needed nontech employers.


“We have access to one of the largest white-collar and technical labor forces in the metroplex,” he said.


These days, the area along Central should really be called the Insurance Corridor. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Travelers, in addition to State Farm, have big employment centers there.


Ferrara said the telecom bust, which left Richardson with millions of square feet of affordable office space, set the stage for the current prosperity.


“It gave us an inventory of buildings to grow into with a more diversified commercial base,” he said.


State Farm has moved into buildings that formerly housed Northern Telecom while it waits for its new CityLine campus to be built.


The city of Richardson has pumped millions of dollars in public-sector funding into new infrastructure, incentives for relocating companies and the revival of older areas.


Drive by the construction at CityLine, and it’s hard to argue with the results.


“Some of the other communities put millions into projects and nothing ever happened,” Ferrara said. “A lot of us didn’t think we would ever seen the densities we are now seeing in Richardson.

“We are creating environments that can weather the ups and downs of economic cycles.” 
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