By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The firm that operates those lustrously colored, high-speed, snub-nosed Brightline/Virgin USA Trains that whiz through Boca Raton each day has gotten definitive approval to build a multi-million dollar rail station and garage in the city so riders can either hop aboard or disembark on platforms proposed behind Boca’s downtown library.
After a five-hour public hearing Dec. 10 that gave foes and backers time to berate or extol the proposed train stop, Boca City Council members voted 5-0 to endorse a long-term land lease that clears the track for the depot and parking facilities.
“We pursued an opportunity to be included in this major transportation network and have seized the moment,” said Mayor Scott Singer following the vote.
“Many community partners have discussed how this train station is a game changer and puts us on the map. Once open, these vital transportation upgrades will provide benefits to Boca’s residents and businesses and will advance the long-term future of our thriving, progressive city,” he added.
He said the council took public comments to heart. He noted that Brightline moved the project 25 feet south in response to residents of nearby Library Commons.
Before taking the vote, Singer and his four council colleagues all lauded the project. Councilman Andy Thomson called the station “an enormous opportunity” that will benefit business sectors, particularly the hospitality industry and cultural arts.
Councilwoman Andrea Levine said a hotel in Miami is asking for students from Lynn and Florida Atlantic universities to participate in internships, and Brightline could provide the wheels to get them there and back.
Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers said he felt the city was “making the right choice.”
“As South Florida continues to grow, a Virgin Trains’ station in Boca Raton will add greater connectivity between our South Florida region while taking cars off the road,” commented Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline/Virgin Trains. “Expanding Virgin Trains in Boca Raton will serve as a catalyst for economic growth by creating jobs and bringing new visitors and spending to the area.”
Brightline, soon to be renamed Virgin Trains USA, took some lumps during the public comment session, but came out of it unscathed. One resident slammed the provision that split parking lot profits evenly between Boca and Brightline. “We should drive a harder bargain,” he protested.
But many in the community said they favor a train stop. One man applauded Brightline for staging special events for Halloween and Christmas, and looks forward to taking the rapid rail to Orlando when that train line is finished.
Sal Saldana, general manager of Town Center Mall, said he favors the service to provide transportation for employees and customers.
Michael Daszkal, managing partner of Daszkal Bolton, said some of his firm’s 600 employees are interesting in taking Virgin USA to and from work.
The approved lease will let Brightline/VTUSA build and fully pay for a train station, complete with lounges, platforms and refreshment centers, on a 1.8-acre site near Palmetto Park Road at Dixie Highway. Construction of the station and garage is scheduled to begin no later than 2021 and be completed by 2023.
The depot will force the city to move the Junior League’s community gardens, but that matter has already been dispatched. Brightline/VTUSA and Boca will work with the League to move the garden to Meadows Park, with the rail firm paying up to $300,000.
Boca will have to foot the bill for most of the design and construction of a 455-car parking garage for train riders and the public. Brightline will be responsible for all garage operating expenses and the parties will split the profits. Library visitors will have dedicated, covered parking on the first floor, which will be complimentary.
Additional land referenced in the lease includes the library parcel, generally located south of the proposed garage, and the vacant lots between SW Third and Fourth streets east of NW 2nd Avenue. The city is not obligated to sell the parcels, but a right of first refusal is included for the term of the lease and the city agrees not to sell to anyone other than VTUSA until Dec. 31, 2024.