The 89-year lease will see Brightline build the rail station, and manage construction of a 455-space parking garage, at a cost of $12.1 million.
Boca Raton officials on Tuesday night approved a proposal to add a Brightline train station in the south Palm Beach County city. The 5-to-0 vote concluded a marathon council meeting that ended close to midnight.
With the Boca Raton city council members’ approval of the long-term lease agreement with Brightline, which is rebranding as Virgin Trains, groundbreaking on the station and public parking garage could take place as early as next year.
“This has been a long process, not just tonight,” said Mayor Scott Singer near the end of the five-hour meeting that followed six other public meetings since July. “This is an investment worth making.”
The 89-year lease will see Brightline build the rail station, and manage construction of a 455-space parking garage, at a cost of $12.1 million before project contingencies. Of that cost, the city will be responsible for some $10.5 million, but share parking revenue with Brightline.
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Brightline will pay the cost of the rail station and manage both construction projects on 1.8 acres of leased property.
The city’s library, which is adjacent to the location, stands to lose part of its parking lot in the project. But the library will be compensated with 171 free parking spots in the garage and Brightline agreed to pay up to $300,000 for the replacement cost of the community garden.
A November economic impact study estimated the new station would host some 700,000 one-way trips in its first year and add $10.9 million in visitor spending in addition to travel time savings, construction jobs and 37 permanent new jobs.
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Those forecasts failed to dissuade critics who spoke out against the proposal.
Indian River County attorney Dylan Reingold cast doubt on the projections. “The numbers are not there,” he said.
But Virgin Trains Jose Gonzalez said if not for the delays caused by the 11 lawsuits filed by Indian River against the passenger train service, Brightline would already be ferrying people to Orlando.
From Boca, Virgin said commuters will pay $10 per ride with frequent rider packages while regular priced fares to Miami would cost $20.
Besides Boca, Brightline is already moving on stations in other southeast Florida cities and locations, including Aventura and PortMiami. Palm Beach Gardens officials have said they would like to be the site of a station.
The privately-owned rail line could also place stations in the Treasure Coast, where county governments and community groups have vociferously opposed the Brightline project nearly from its inception.
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More recently, Brightline has sought to address a more traumatic issue, the use of its trains by people seeking to end their lives. On Dec. 4, Brightline said it would contribute $150,000 to 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast Helpline, a service for people suffering mental health issues.
The 93-page lease agreement with the City of Boca Raton was hashed out over some nine months and follows in the footsteps of an October deal by the City of Miami to add service to Aventura Mall at a taxpayer cost of $76 million. Later that month, Miami also approved a Brightline PortMiami extension to potentially serve some 1.3 million cruise line passengers.
Years ago, Boca Raton city officials envisioned an East Coast Tri-Rail link at SW. 1st Avenue and 4th Street, site of the community garden and public library parking. As efforts stalled, in March, Singer approached a private actor that has proven able to construct and execute commuter rail stations and parking garages in what is record time for South Florida.
The privately-owned and operated intercity passenger rail service began moving tourists and commuters between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in 2018. Since then, an estimated 1.3 million trips have taken place, displacing some 600,000 cars from South Florida roadways.
Brightline has already approved a rail connection all the way to Orlando International Airport that is scheduled for completion by 2022.
New York-based Fortress has a management contract with Gannett Co., Inc., the ultimate parent of the publisher of The Palm Beach Post.