The proposed deal on a Brightline / Virgin Trains USA station in downtown Boca has gotten a lot sweeter for residents and has moved in the right direction. After months of discussion, including recent City Council meetings, this matter is scheduled for a decision on December 10th at 6PM. Here are the basics:
- The City and Brightline would partner on a train station and parking garage east of the Downtown Library, with Brightline paying most of the infrastructure costs (more than $25M paid by them). The City and Brightline would share profits from the parking, with Brightline responsible for all costs.
- There are no development rights as part of this proposal, nor any option of land to Brightline. The City would own all of the land, with Brightline leasing it from us, and paying all expenses, maintenance, insurance, etc. As stated, the City would share garage revenues. The only buildings included are the garage and train station.
- Library parking would remain free of cost, have a separate, dedicated entrance, and the number of spaces at ground level would increase. Library operations would remain the same, including the Friends of the Library bookstore.
- The Community Garden would be relocated to Meadows Park at the site preferred by the Junior League of Boca Raton with Brightline paying $300,000 to relocate it.
- JUST IN – In response to requests by the City Council, Brightline announced that they have shifted their plans for the garage to give nearly twice the distance buffer required by Code from a small group of neighboring residents who expressed some concerns.
Q: Would this slow car traffic because more roads would have to be closed?
A: No, neither Palmetto Park Road nor NE/NW 2nd Street will be closed to cars when the train would be in the station. Cars will still move normally. That’s part of the reason for this location.
Q: What’s happening the Community Garden?
A: Brightline is offering to pay $300,000 and assist with the logistics for moving the garden to the new site preferred by the Junior League of Boca Raton – at Meadows Park in central Boca Raton, next to Boca Middle School. This site is larger, has ample parking, is not near a train station, requires no pesticides, and provides an opportunity for educational programs with adjacent Boca Middle. Another potential win-win.
Q: What development or options are being given away to Brightline?
A: None. Brightline’s first proposal sought additional development rights and options on land. After we pushed back, they dropped those requests. There are no new development rights beyond the building of the station and the garage, and no option to buy the land. Brightline will have only a right of first refusal to buy the adjacent city land in case the city ever decided to sell during the term of the lease. It’s solely the city’s choice whether to keep the land or use it.
Q: Will the Library remain in normal operation?
A: Yes. There is no change to library operations or to the Friends of the Library bookstore during construction. The plans for the garage include dedicated, library-patron, free parking at ground level with an increase in spaces for library patrons. This parking would have a separate entrance, and be shaded from the sun, with a covered walkway providing more shade.
Q: Is Brightline paying to lease the land?
A: Yes. Brightline is responsible for all operations costs, maintenance expenses, any taxes on improvements, and insurance for the garage and train station. Those considerable expenses are far more than the nominal rent that some people have stated. To state that the rent of $1 per year would be a misstatement of the actual costs, which sum is not known but are estimated in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. The critical point is that Brightline is incurring them, not the city. The city will share in profits from the garage with Brightline.
Q: What value will Brightline provide?
A: A great deal, no matter how you measure it. First, they are expected to put in at least twice the infrastructure costs that the city would (at least $25 million). Second, an economic impact study estimated many millions in net economic benefit to the city. Third, and most, the value of being included in a major transportation network has other major benefits difficult to measure – such as in West Palm Beach, where it revitalized a surrounding area with new restaurants, cafes, and stores. Major employers and other mayors have talked of benefits for their local economies.
Please note that there’s a lot of misinformation circulating. Brightline’s original proposal from months ago has changed after the City Council has pushed and pushed again to find an even better solution for residents. In response, Brightline has dramatically reduced its wish list and worked to respond to the City’s concerns.
Again, the response from residents, employers, our largest institutions, and community partners has been overwhelmingly positive. People want to make sure Boca is not left out of this high-speed rail network that has provided benefits to the cities that have it. Elected officials in other cities have been watching us closely, and are trying to get where we are. For comparison, we have a far more attractive deal for taxpayers than what was proposed for Aventura, where $76 million is being used to entice them to build there – a far cry from our investment in infrastructure, which we will own and use. A stop in Boca adds connectivity for our residents for trains that are already running throughout our city and brings benefits for our commuting professionals, tourism, our economy, and our presence.